Former acting Attorney General Sally Yates on Wednesday discussed the “compressed period of time” in which she found out about President Donald Trump’s first travel ban.
“I was in the car on the way to the airport … and I had actually just finished a meeting at the White House on what’s now known as the Mike Flynn situation,” Yates said at the 2017 Aspen Ideas Festival. “I got a call from my principal deputy … [who] says, ‘You’re not going to believe this, but I was just on the New York Times website, and it looks like the president has instituted some sort of travel ban.'”
“That’s how we found out about it at the Department of Justice: read about it on the internet,” Yates said. “I’m on my way to the plane, I’ve got my iPad, I’m furiously going on there trying to figure out what it is.
“I’m literally going online to try to find a copy of the executive order so we could get some sense of what this was,” Yates continued. “So over the course of that weekend, it was a whole lot of trying to figure out, ‘What the heck is this thing, and to whom does it apply?'”
Trump’s first travel ban, an executive order barring travel to the US by citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries for 90 days, by Syrian refugees indefinitely, and by all refugees for 120 days, went into effect in January shortly after he was sworn in. After a chaotic implementation, the ban, met with confusion from legal experts and fierce opposition from immigration advocates, was struck down by several federal courts as seeming to unconstitutionally target Muslims.
The Supreme Court recently allowed some parts of a revised travel ban, which had also been blocked by multiple lower courts, to take effect until it hears legal arguments in the case this fall.
A holdover from President Barack Obama’s administration, Yates was ultimately dismissed after refusing to enforce Trump’s executive order.
“We gathered all of the folks who were involved in this at the Justice Department in my conference room, and that included the Trump administration appointees,” Yates recalled Wednesday. “We went around the table, with [me] asking them: ‘Tell me why you think this is lawful. How are we going to defend this?'”
“At the end of that, I was not comfortable that it was in fact lawful or constitutional,” Yates continued.
Yates defended her decision not to resign but to issue a Justice Department directive not to present arguments in defense of the travel ban.
“I didn’t feel like I would be doing my job if I just essentially said, ‘I’m out of here – you guys figure this out,'” Yates said. “That would have protected my personal integrity, but I didn’t believe that it would have protected the integrity of the Department of Justice. And it wouldn’t have been doing my job.”
“Not surprisingly, I got a letter about 9 p.m. that night firing me,” Yates said. “So that was that.”
You can watch her comments here »
— CSPAN (@cspan) June 28,2017