Sally Yates is making political headlines as Congressional hearings call into question past Trump mistakes – the travel ban, Mike Flynn’s ties to Russia – and she stands resolute, a pillar of intelligence and conviction in an alarming wave of corruption and chaos. Who is Sally Yates? A recently unemployed former U.S. Attorney General whose throwing a wrench in Trump’s administration. But Yates isn’t new to the corruption game – she’s been kicking butt for decades.
In the late 1980s, Yates was hired as Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, prosecuting cases including political corruption. In the 1990s, Yates was the lead prosecutor in the Eric Rudolph case – the Centennial Olympic Park bomber who was convicted for a series of anti-abortion and anti-gay bombings across the South.
In 2010, President Obama nominated Yates to be U.S. Attorney in the Northern District of Georgia, becoming the first woman to hold the position.
In 2015, the Senate confirmed Yates as Deputy Attorney General of the United States, the second-highest-ranking position in the Justice Department. During the confirmation, Senator Jeff Sessions (now the Attorney General) asked if she would disobey a president’s unlawful orders. Yates responded that she had an obligation to follow the law and the Constitution and to give independent legal advice to the president. Her words would ring true in just a few short years.
During the final days of the Obama administration, Yates oversaw the review of 16,000 petitions for executive clemency, making recommendations to the president.
In January 2017, Yates accepted a request by President Trump to serve as Acting Attorney General until a formal successor was confirmed by the Senate. In late January, Yates warned the Trump administration that National Security Advisor Michael T. Flynn had not been truthful about his contacts with Russia-related sanctions and he was vulnerable to blackmail by Russian intelligence. In mid-February, The Washington Post reported Yates’ warning and Flynn resigned shortly thereafter.
In late January, Yates ordered the Justice Department not to defend Trump’s executive order on travel and immigration. The order closed the nation’s borders to refugees and people from predominately Muslim countries, sparking a nationwide resistance. President Trump declared that Yates had betrayed the administration by announcing that DOJ lawyers would not defend Trump’s order against legal challenges.
Yates was fired and immediately replaced with Dana J. Boente until Senator Jeff Sessions was confirmed by Congress.
Yates received attention again in March 2017 when the House Intelligence Committee called on her to testify before Congress about Russia’s influence in the 2016 election. The Washington Post published documents indicating that the Trump administration had attempted to block her from testifying.
In May, Yates and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified before the Senate Judiciary’s Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism over the alleged Russian ties to the 2016 election. Yates stated the FBI interviewed then National Security Advisor Michael Flynn in January 2017, prompting her to make an urgent request to meet with White House Counsel Don McGahn. She informed McGahn that Flynn was “compromised” and possibly open to blackmail by the Russians. As previously reported, she told McGahn that Flynn had misled Vice President Mike Pence and other administration officials about the nature of his conversation with the Russian ambassador.
However, Yates won over many Americans and capitulated to political fame when she shut down Senator Ted Cruz’s line of questioning regarding the immigration ban. At the aforementioned hearing ≠ which was supposed to be focused on Trump and his associates’ ties to Russia – Cruz focused on Yates’ refusal to uphold the president’s executive order. When questioning Yates, Cruz referenced a portion of U.S. code. Yates immediately returned fire by referencing another statute that prohibits discrimination due to someone’s race, nationality or place of birth.
Yates’ calm under Congressional attack, her commitment to the Constitution and her moral compass is quickly winning over the hearts and minds of Americans across the country in a time when it seems the Trump administration is running amok.