Former acting Attorney General Sally Yates on Monday testified that some lawyers in her department were told not to inform her about President Donald Trump’s original executive order barring immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries until it already had been implemented.
Yates’ highly-anticipated testimony Monday before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee investigating Russian meddling in the U.S. election turned out to contain a number of revelations about the original iteration of Trump’s travel ban. Republican senators on the panel grilled Yates on her refusal to defend the executive order in January, when she instructed DOJ lawyers not to enforce it. Trump’s administration fired Yates hours later and accused her of having “betrayed” the agency.
Responding to questions about her decision, Yates testified that lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel, the DOJ body that advises the White House on legal actions, were advised not to tell her about the travel ban until it was implemented.
“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 has directed the department not to follow that policy and to defy that policy?” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) asked Yates.
“I’m not,” Yates replied. “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.”
Yates also testified that despite visiting the White House on the same day Trump signed the executive order, she only found out about it from media reports. She said that White House counsel Don McGahn did not mention the order during their Jan. 30 meeting.
“I realized that your second meeting when you went over to the White House to warn them of Gen. Flynn’s lying and his connections with Russia was the same day that this refugee order came out,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) noted. “Did they mention, anyone mention that this refugee order was about to come out?”
“No,” Yates said.
She told Klobuchar that the Trump administration contacted neither Justice Department leadership nor “subject matter experts” before pushing its ban.
“Not only was the department not consulted, we weren’t even told about it,” she said. “I learned about this from media reports.”
“Look, I understand that people of good will and who are good folks can make different decisions about this. I understand that, but all I can say is I did my job the best way I knew how,” Yates later added. “I looked at this EO, I looked at the law, I talked with the folks at the Department of Justice, gathered them all to get their views and their input and I did my job.”