- Reuters/Kevin Lamarque
- A Freedom of Information Act request from the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch revealed emails sent to former acting Attorney General Sally Yates from several Justice Department employees.
- One of the emails from a prominent prosecutor who is now on special counsel Robert Mueller’s team appeared to be supportive of Yates’ decision not to enforce President Donald Trump’s original travel ban earlier this year.
A Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request and subsequent lawsuit filed against the US Justice Department for the release of former acting Attorney General Sally Yates’ emails revealed mess, including a prominent prosecutor who praised Yates’ decision not to enforce President Donald Trump’s controversial travel ban earlier this year.
Judicial Watch released emails sent from multiple Justice Department employees to Yates during her tenure as acting attorney general in the first week of the Trump administration. On January 27, Trump implemented an executive order intended to temporarily bar refugees and people from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the US.
Yates, a former deputy attorney general under the Obama administration, refused to defend Trump’s order, saying his administration’s justification for the ban – that it was a national-security issue and not a religious one – was indefensible. Yates was promptly fired.
Yates outlined her reasoning for not enforcing Trump’s executive order in a letter to Justice Department lawyers: “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,” Yates wrote. “At present, I am not convinced that the defense of the executive order is consistent with these responsibilities nor am I convinced that the executive order is lawful.”
Some of Yates’ colleagues within the department applauded her decision. One email with the subject line, “Executive order” was sent three days after Trump’s travel ban went into effect: “Thank you Yates. Ive [sic] been civil/appellate for years and have never seen administration with such contempt for democratic values and the rule law,” read the employee’s email. “The Presidents order unconstitutional embarrassment and applaud you for taking principled stand against defending it.”
Another email from prosecutor Andrew Weissmann reveals that he also supported Yates’ decision. “I am so proud,” Weissmann wrote. “And in awe. Thank you so much.”
Weissman later joined special counsel Robert Mueller’s team in the high-profile investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
Some Trump supporters in recent days have sought to highlight alleged political biases among members of Mueller’s investigative team in order to call their credibility into question as the Russia probe heats up.
Four former Trump associates have been charged, including former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty last week to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian operatives.