Jeff Sessions Once Praised Sally Yates for the Trait that got her Fired

by Alan Pyke –

Donald Trump’s would-be Attorney General complimented his predecessor for saying she wouldn’t comply with illegal demands.

When Sally Yates decided the law does not support President Donald Trump’s travel ban for Muslim-majority countries and instructed Department of Justice officials not to defend it in court, Trump was angry enough to fire her.

In the White House statement blasting her for it and announcing her replacement, administration officials also urged the Senate to swiftly confirm Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) as the next Attorney General.

But at Yates’ 2015 confirmation hearing, Sessions himself pressed her to agree that the DOJ has a responsibility to resist White House actions that are unlawful. Watch:

“Do you think the Attorney General has a responsibility to say no to the president if he asks for something improper?” Sessions asked. “[I]f the views a president wants to execute are unlawful, should the Attorney General or Deputy Attorney General say no?”

“Senator, I believe the Attorney General or Deputy Attorney General has an obligation to follow the law under the Constitution and to give their independent legal advice to the president,” Yates answered.

Later, Sessions underscored his belief that the Department of Justice’s top officers have a duty to tell the White House no when the law tilts against it.

“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 gonna be a violation of the law. You’ll regret it. Please.’ No matter how headstrong they might be. Do you feel that’s a duty of the Attorney General’s office?”

Yates agreed. Two years later, she declined to defend an unlawful White House action that has lost in every federal court to hear it so far. Jeff Sessions’ boss fired her.

In the White House statement on Yates’ firing, the administration signaled it is eager to tear down the wall between political expediency and the law.

Rather than simply saying she was being fired for insubordination, the statement accused her of being “weak on borders and very weak on illegal immigration” and said that her exercise of independent legal judgment that defied the president had “betrayed the Department of Justice.”

Sessions, it seems, may soon be asked to politicize law enforcement activity in exactly the way he urged Obama administration appointees not to do.

Reprinted with permission from Think Progress, a branch of The Center for American Progress