Donald Trump has fired acting Attorney General Sally Yates for instructing the Department of Justice not to implement the Muslim immigration and refugee ban that has divided families and wreaked havoc at American airports this week. His action is deeply chilling, as it’s literally the attorney general’s job to push back against a law that the DOJ deems unlawful. So long, checks and balances.
In fact, in her 2015 confirmation hearing, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions—who is now Trump’s nominee for Attorney General—grilled Yates over her ability to stand up to President Obama. “Do you think the Attorney General has the responsibility to say no to the president if he asks for something improper?” Sessions asked Yates. “If the views the president wants to execute are unlawful, should the attorney general, or deputy attorney general, say no?”
Yates answered, “Senator, I believe that the attorney general or the deputy attorney general has an obligation to follow the law and the constitution, and to give their independent legal advice to the president.”
A few minutes later, he poses the same question in a different way: “Like any CEO with a law firm, sometimes the lawyers have to tell the CEO, ‘Mr. CEO, you can’t do that. Don’t do that, we’ll get us sued. It’s going to be in violation of the law, you’ll regret it, please.’ No matter how head strong they might be. Do you feel like that’s the duty on the attorney general’s office?”
“I do believe that that’s the duty of the attorney general’s office,” she says. “To fairly and impartially evaluate the law, and to provide the president and the administration with impartial legal advice.”
In other words, Yates was fired for doing her job, even as the potential future attorney general defines it. Coincidentally, Sessions’s confirmation vote takes place on Tuesday, and you can bet that he’s going to be dealing with some interesting ethical and legal questions given this clip.