Former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, a vocal critic of President Donald Trump and his discriminatory Muslim ban, appeared on Capitol Hill to testify about Russia’s interference in the U.S. presidential election.
The hearing was focused mainly on President Donald Trump and his aides’ ties with Russia. However, some senators focused on Trump’s executive order on immigration and Yates’ refusal to defend it. Republican Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) steered the hearing towards the stalled executive order and tried to corner her on the law — but got schooled instead.
Cruz started the exchange by citing a section of Immigration and Nationality Act, which provides the president with broad powers to suspend the entry of foreigners he believes would be detrimental "to the interest of the" U.S.
"Would you agree that that is broad statutory authorization?" asked Cruz.
However, Yates was quick to fire back by citing another statute. She also explained that her original concern was not whether the executive order fit within the act, but whether it was constitutional.
“I would, and I am familiar with that. And I'm also familiar with an additional provision ... that says no person shall receive preference or be discriminated against in issuance of a visa because of race, nationality, and place of birth. That I believe was promulgated after the statute that you just quoted. And that's been part of the discussion with the courts ... whether this more specific statute trumps the first one that you described," she said.
The senator then cited a Department of Justice issuance from the Office of Legal Counsel that approved the order "with respect to form and legality."
“That is a determination from OLC on January 27 that it was legal. Three days later, you determined, using your own words, that 'although OLC had opined on legality, it had not addressed whether it was wise or just.'"
Yates then shot another reply and explained that she said in the same directive that she was not convinced the executive order "was lawful."
"I also made the point that the office of OLC looks purely at the face of the document and again makes a determination as to whether there is some set of circumstances under which some portion of that EO would be enforceable, would be lawful. They importantly do not look outside the face of the document. And in this particular instance, particularly where we were talking about a fundamental issue of religious freedom, not the interpretation of some arcane statute, but religious freedom, it was important for us to look at the intent behind the president's actions."
In the final question, Cruz asked Yates if she was aware of any similar situation in the Department of Justice’s history in which an attorney general ordered the department not to follow a policy that had been approved by the OLC.
Yates replied, "I'm not. But I'm also not aware of a situation where the OLC was advised not to tell the AG about it until after it was over."
Previously, Yates had alerted the administration about former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s alleged contacts with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. and the potential dangers associated with it. A few days later Yates was fired from her position — not because she warned White House about Flynn, but because she refused to support the xenophobic travel ban. The Trump administration said in a statement that she had “betrayed the Department of Justice."
In my darkest hours I will think of Sally Yates destroying Ted Cruz on national television, and it will sustain me.— Molly Knight (@molly_knight) May 8, 2017
If Sally Yates runs for POTUS, this clip of her destroying Ted Cruz is the only campaign video she'll ever need pic.twitter.com/RMHCGDsmr1— Adam Khan (@Khanoisseur) May 8, 2017
@Khanoisseur It was one of the best smack down I've seen in a while. She's my hero ????— Rehema (@rnwmurphy) May 8, 2017