[Already off topic — whatever, it’s my blog — first, allow me to point out one important thing: Sally Yates got her bachelor’s degree and law degree from the University of Georgia, so Go Dawgs.]
On Monday, former acting attorney general Sally Yates testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism about connections to Russia throughout Trump’s campaign team and administration. Remember how she told the White House counsel about Michael Flynn being compromised, and got cool-story-bro’d? Well, Ted Cruz had some questions — but not about anything to do with that, because he just wanted to get in his smug digs about her refusal to enact Trump’s Muslim ban.
This was a mistake.
Cruz came in with a federal statute he’d almost certainly had to have an aide dig up for him, plus bonus implication that Yates wasn’t familiar with said law. She sat politely while he made a smug ass of himself, then dropped legal knowledge on him that possibly made him run away.
(And not to distract from the important content of her testimony, but I must also express my pleasure, as a Southerner, at hearing her dismantling him about an executive order that “vahlated the Constitution.”)
TED CRUZ. Are you familiar with 8 USC Section 1182?
SALLY YATES. Not off the top of my head, no.
CRUZ. It is the binding statutory authority for the executive order you refused to implement, and that led to your termination. So it certainly is a relevant and not a terribly obscure statute. By the express text of the statute, it says, quote, “Whenever the president finds that the entry of any alien, or of any class of aliens, into the United States would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, he may, by proclamation and for such period as he shall deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or non-immigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem appropriate.” Would you agree that that is broad statutory authorization?
YATES. I would, and I am familiar with that. And I am also familiar with an additional provision in the INA that says, “No person shall receive preference or be discriminated against in issuance of a visa because of race, nationality, or 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, with respect to the INA, is whether this more specific statute trumps the first one that you just described.
But my concern was not an INA concern here. It rather was a Constitutional concern, whether or not this — the executive order violated the Constitution, specifically with the Establishment Clause and equal protection and due process.
CRUZ. A final, very brief question: In the over 200 years of the Department of Justice history, are you aware of any instance in which the Department of Justice has formally approved the legality of a policy and three days later, the Attorney General has directed the department not to follow that policy and to defy that policy?
YATES. I’m not, but I’m also not aware of a situation where the Office of Legal Counsel was advised not to the tell the Attorney General about it until after it was over.
Cruz then thanked Yates for her testimony, made a snide parting shot about partisanship, and shortly thereafter zipped on out of there without telling anyone and without ever having asked a question about Trump’s ties to Russia.
Y’all, don’t come for a Southern woman who has vastly superior knowledge of statutory and Constitutional law, because she will school the hell out of you and make it sound polite.
Sen. John Cornyn also had a few (non-Russian-interference) comments for Yates.
JOHN CORNYN. I voted for your confirmation because I believed that you had a distinguished career. But I have to tell you that I find it enormously disappointing that you somehow vetoed the decision of the Office of Legal Counsel with regard to the lawfulness of the president’s order, and decided instead that you would countermand the executive order from the president of the United States because you happened to disagree with it as a policy matter. I just have to say that.
SALLY YATES. I appreciate that, Senator, and let me make one thing clear: It was not purely as a policy matter. And in fact, I remember my confirmation hearing, in an exchange I had with you — and others of your colleagues — where you specifically asked me in that hearing that if the president asked me to do something that was unlawful or unconstitutional, and one of your colleagues said, “Or even that would just reflect poorly on the Department of Justice,” would I say no. And I looked at this, I made a determination that I believed that it was unlawful. I also thought that it was inconsistent with principles of the Department of Justice, and I said no. And that’s what I promised you I would do, and that’s what I did.
Interestingly enough, Cornyn also zipped off shortly thereafter without asking a single question about Russia.
We have two takeaways here:
1. Throughout three hours of testimony, Yates remained patient, informed, specific, and cool during extended periods when it was obvious that senators were trying to trip her up and/or bait her. And while her tone remained even and her replies remained professional, there was a subtle but distinct undertone of “bless your heart.” I’m not saying it would ever be okay for the Senate to suppress testimony or hide video, but with her delivering damning evidence and making them look like idiots, I can imagine that they would want to try.
2. For real, don’t come for a Southern woman who has a law degree. You aren’t going to like how it turns out.
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