It’s time to Break It Down!
Senator Jefferson Beauregard “Jeff” Sessions III is the junior United States Senator from Alabama and a member of the Republican Party. He is the most senior junior Senator, and is also the current nominee, and likely imminent appointee as the next United States Attorney General.
Sessions served as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama, he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1996, and re-elected in 2002, 2008, and again in 2014. The Senator is considered one of the most conservative members of the Senate, and was rumored to be a possible Vice Presidential nominee by the current administration.
Sally Quillian Yates is an American attorney who practiced law at the King & Spalding law firm in Atlanta. In addition, she:
- Was appointed Assistant U.S. Attorney by Bob Barr for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia
- Served as Chief of the Fraud and Public Corruption Section in that office
- Acted as the lead prosecutor in the case of Eric Rudolph, who committed the Centennial Olympic Park bombing. Rudolph was a terrorist convicted for a series of anti-abortion and anti-gay bombings across the southern United States between 1996 and 1998, which killed two people and injured over 120 others.
- Rose to First Assistant U.S. Attorney in 2002 and to Acting U.S. Attorney in 2004. In the U.S. Attorney’s office she held leadership positions under both Republican and Democratic administrations.
- Was nominated by President Barack Obama to be U.S. Attorney in the Northern District of Georgia.
- Was confirmed by the Senate on March 10, 2010.
- Was appointed by Attorney General Eric Holder to serve as Vice Chair of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee.
The United States Senate voted 84–12, in 2015, to confirm Yates as Deputy Attorney General of the United States, the second highest-ranking position in the Justice Department. While Yates was going through confirmation hearings, Senator Sessions posed a series of questions that ultimately led to him encouraging her to resist unlawful orders.
She served under Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who took office shortly before Yates’s confirmation.
As Deputy Attorney General, Yates was responsible for the day-to-day operations of the Justice Department, which included approximately 113,000 employees. In 2015, she authored the policy, known as the “Yates memo” prioritizing the prosecution of executives for corporate crimes. During the final days of the Obama administration, she oversaw the review of 16,000 petitions for executive clemency, making recommendations to the President.
Circling back to Ms. Yates’ confirmation hearings to become Deputy Attorney General, and Senator Sessions’ questioning her, he grilled her intensely regarding her willingness to oppose a President (Obama) if he required her to execute “unlawful” views. As it turns out, Sessions is now on tap to lead the Justice Department.
During her hearing, the Senator observed:
“You have to watch out because people will be asking you to do things and you need to say no. You think the attorney general has the responsibility to say no to the President if he asks for something that’s improper?”
He went on, referring to AG Nominee Loretta Lynch…
“A lot of people have defended the Lynch nomination, for example by saying, ‘Well, he appoints somebody who’s going to execute his views, what’s wrong with that?’ ”
“But if the views the President wants to execute are unlawful, should the attorney general or the deputy attorney general say no?”
Ms. Yates responded:
“Senator, I believe the attorney general or the deputy attorney general has an obligation to follow the law and the Constitution and to give their independent legal advice to the President.”
So fast forward back to the present. Earlier this week, Yates, who had been running the Justice Department while Sessions completed the confirmation process, transformed her 2015 words to 2017 actions.
On January 2017, Yates accepted a request from the incoming Administration to serve as Acting Attorney General, beginning on January 20, 2017, and serving until the United States Senate confirms the new Attorney General. On January 30, 2017, Yates ordered the Justice Department not to defend Trump’s executive order on travel and immigration. She wrote:
“At present, I am not convinced that the defense of the executive order is consistent with these responsibilities of the Department of Justice, nor am I convinced that the executive order is lawful…I am responsible for ensuring that the positions we take in court remain consistent with this institution’s solemn obligation to always seek justice and stand for what is right. For as long as I am the acting Attorney General, the Department of Justice will not present arguments in defense of this executive order, unless and until I become convinced that it is appropriate to do so.”
Former Attorney General Eric Holder tweeted he trusted Yates’ judgment, in response to her statement. Not surprisingly, the administration reacted in stark contrast. Shortly afterward, she received a hand-delivered letter from the administration firing her.
She was replaced with Dana Boente, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. According to the White House statement on the subject, Yates “betrayed the Department of Justice by refusing to enforce a legal order designed to protect the citizens of the United States.”
It is a peculiarly ironic time warp in which Sessions and Yates find themselves. It began manifesting itself when Sessions, a Republican, questioned Yates at her Deputy AG hearing. At that time, he and his fellow GOP’ers wanted assurances that as Deputy AG, Yates would not just roll over and execute the recommendations of the President, who at the time of course, was a Democrat. Time and circumstance have a way of showing themselves fickle. By the time Yates was actually faced with the real world scenario Sessions had asked about, the worm had turned, Yates was tapped to serve as acting AG until Sessions received confirmation, and the President, as we all know, is now a Republican.
Yates held up her end of the bargain. As she said she would, she declined to order staff to defend an executive order that she did not believe to be lawful. Based upon the predicate conversations during her 2015 hearings, her actions were, or should have been predictable. She did not disappoint. Let’s be clear, the administration also did the expected, in light of what it considered defiance. It fired Yates. All things considered, no one should be surprised by any of this; least of all the principals. “Jeff & Sally: The Irony of It All.”
I’m done; holla back!
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