Sally Yates could give a masterclass in how to testify before the Senate. The former Acting Attorney General faced the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday to discuss Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election. In the face of questions about her actions, Yates calmly and coolly schooled Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, who seemed committed to changing the topic.
Yates was asked to testify about the evidence she gave the White House about General Michael Flynn's connections with Russia. However, the GOP senators focused on other issues, including Yates's conduct and firing as Acting Attorney General.
Senator John Cornyn of Texas proclaimed his disappointment in Yates. He declared she was acting for political reasons when she refused to defend Trump's travel ban, saying, "I voted for your confirmation because I believe that you had a distinguished career, but I have to tell you that I find it enormously disappointing that you 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 of the President of the United States because you happened to disagree with it as a policy matter."
Yates responded politely but firmly, "I appreciate that, Senator, and let me make one thing clear—it was not purely as a policy matter. In fact, I remember my confirmation hearing, in an exchange that I had with you and your colleagues, where you specifically asked me, if the president asked me to do something that was unlawful or unconstitutional…would I say no. And I looked at this, I made a determination that I believed that it was unlawful…and I said no. That’s what I promised you that I would do. And that’s what I did."
The junior senator from Texas fared no better. After exchanging legal statutes, Ted Cruz cited the Immigration and Nationality Act, which appeared to grant to the president unfettered authority to suspend the entry of aliens to the U.S. But Yates pointed out that there is an additional passage in that law stating "no person shall receive preference or be discriminated against in issuance of a visa because of race, nationality or place of birth."
Ted Cruz also tried to question Yates's credibility for refusing to support Trump's immigration order: "Very brief question. In the over 200 years of the Department of Justice's 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 directed the department not to follow that policy and to defy that policy?"
Again, Yates was prepared, and replied, "I'm not. But I'm also not aware of a situation where the Office of Legal Counsel was advised not to tell the attorney general about it until after it was over."
Ted Cruz doesn’t often get bested in a legal debate. Sally Yates just bested Ted Cruz in a legal debate.— Matt Viser (@Matt Viser) 1494274289.0
The exchange between Sen. Ted Cruz and Former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates https://t.co/3mI2yPBgc5 https://t.co/xxybuqp1gu— Los Angeles Times (@Los Angeles Times) 1494277044.0
Even CNN's Wolf Blitzer was impressed. On air last night, he said, "She basically crushed him."