As deputy and later acting attorney general, Yates was also involved in the investigation into Russia’s direct meddling into the 2016 elections and into former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn’s ties to Russia. This week, she was invited back to Washington to testify on those subjects before a Senate subcommittee.
Instead, several Republican senators tried to find safer political ground by grilling her on the travel ban. It didn’t work out so well for them.
Sen. John Cornyn of Texas launched the first attack, demanding to know why she had made that decision. Yates replied calmly, clearly well-prepared. She recalled her testimony before Cornyn and the Senate Judiciary Committee just two years earlier, when she was being confirmed as deputy attorney general:
"You specifically asked me in that hearing that if the president asked me to do something that was unlawful or unconstitutional … or even just that would reflect poorly on the Department of Justice, would I say no?" Yates said. "… That's what I promised you I would do and that's what I did."
A few minutes later the junior senator from Texas, Ted Cruz, stepped up to bat. The former Supreme Court clerk and self-styled defender of religious freedom cited a federal law that in his opinion gave Trump clear power to issue such a ban. He then demanded to know why Yates had refused to abide by the president’s order.
Yates, again prepared, quickly cited federal statutes to rebut Cruz. However, she made it clear that her true concerns had been deeper and more profound.
"In this particular instance, particularly where we were talking about a fundamental issue of religious freedom — not the interpretation of some arcane statute, but religious freedom — it was appropriate for us to look at the intent behind the president's actions, and the intent is laid out in his statements," she "woman-explained."
That’s exactly right. As recently as Monday, the Trump campaign site still featured his promise to ban immigration by all Muslims. He told us over and over where he was coming from with that call, in no uncertain terms, and that can’t be ignored.
As Yates explained to Cornyn, “all arguments have to be based on truth, because we’re the Department of Justice.”