The Democratic Party, currently stuck in a coma, showed signs of life on Monday when it reacted to Donald Trump’s firing of acting Attorney General Sally Yates as an act of his “tyrannical presidency.”
Trump fired Yates within hours of her announcement that the Department of Justice did not support a new executive order that barred Syrian refugees indefinitely other asylum seekers for four months, and temporarily closed America’s border to nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries. “My responsibility is to ensure that the position of the Department of Justice is not only legally defensible, but is informed by our best view of what the law is after consideration of all the facts,” Yates said. “At present, I am not convinced that the defense of the executive order is consistent with these responsibilities nor am I convinced that the executive order is lawful.”
Defending the constitution is exactly what the attorney general is supposed to do, and what Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions—the guy Trump has nominated to become America’s next attorney general—expected Yates to do when he grilled Yates in her confirmation hearing in 2015. But Trump apparently wants to surround himself with yes-men (and I do mean mostly men). The White House called Yates’s decision a “betrayal” and instated US attorney Dana Boente, who has no problem with Trump’s executive order.
Former Attorney General Loretta Lynch applauded Yates, calling the decision “not to defend the executive order” an example of “fierce intellect, unshakeable integrity, and deep commitment to the rule of law.”
A bipartisan group of over 60 former federal attorneys issued a statement defending Yates and condemning Trump’s decision. “It would be our job, if we were representing the United States today, to say, no, this Executive Order is wrong and should not be defended,” it said. “Acting Attorney General Yates was right to refuse to do so. If her successor wishes to follow in the finest traditions of the Justice Department, he will reverse course and do the same.”
Several other Democratic leaders lauded Yates. Rep. Jackie Spier (D- Calif.) has nominated Yates for a JFK Profile in Courage Award. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), a leading candidate for DNC chair, said, “History will remember Acting Attorney General Sally Yates as a hero who stood up to a power hungry President and his unconstitutional Muslim ban.”
Upon news of Yates’s ousting, the Senate Judiciary Committee has delayed the confirmation vote for Sessions until Wednesday morning. Some Democrats fear that Sessions is in Trump’s pocket, as White House chief strategist and proud nationalist Steve Bannon recently told the Washington Post, “Sessions has been the fiercest, most dedicated, and most loyal promoter in Congress of Trump’s agenda.”
“The attorney general is the people’s attorney. Not the president’s attorney. He or she does not wear two hats at once,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who will vote against Sessions. “I have very serious doubts that Senator Sessions would be an independent attorney general.”