Yesterday, the President fired his acting Attorney General, Sally Yates, for ordering the Justice Department not to defend or enforce his Executive Order banning Muslims from certain countries. Her conclusion, reached after extensive discussions within the DOJ, was that the order appeared to be based on his stated intention to bar Muslims from entering the country. Whether or not you agree with her order, it was her duty to enforce a decades old law that forbids religious tests for obtaining and exercising the right to enter the US. Normally, the DOJ is consulted on decisions like that made in this order, which call for interpretations of the law. This did not occur, and neither were other affected departments, resulting in chaos at our borders and around the world.
The Attorney General, serves in a unique role as the attorney for the United States and not for the President. It is a principle that has been demonstrated and accepted by every administration in modern history, except one – or now two. If, in this case, she found as she did, it was her duty to instruct the Department not to enforce the order.
One of the founding principles of this country is that we are a nation of laws, by which all are bound, even the most powerful. Without that assumption, our Constitution would be meaningless. Even the President, and most importantly the President, has this responsibility.
In civics class we all learned about the concept of checks and balances that prevents one part of the government from usurping control from the people. Sally Yates exercised that responsibility. At the same time, the President was within his right to fire her. Sadly, he chose to follow Richard Nixon’s model of firing his Attorney General, Elliot Richardson, followed by his deputy William Ruckelshaus, for refusing to unlawfully remove the Watergate Special Prosecutor. Unlike Nixon, this President did not exercise the good judgment to ask for her reasoning, before summarily firing her.
I’ve tried here to stick basically to the facts, up to this point, and I hope I’ve been sufficiently accurate. What I really want to address is the President’s seemingly insecure and baseless choice to disparage Sally Yates. She come from a long line of distinguished and principled lawyers from the city where I live. She made it here career to serve in and rise through the ranks of the DOJ. She successfully prosecuted the Olympic bomber, Eric Rudolph. She served with honor, character, integrity, intelligence and humility when she became the US District Attorney and again when she was appointed to be second in command in the Justice Department.
You may disagree with the decision for which she was fired, but you disparage an honest and upright person if you criticize her personally. When all is said, we must be better than that.
Update: Slate published a thoughtful article on this subject here, which I recommend.
And another: The President, through his new Attorney General, recently asked a number of District Attorneys to resign. One, Preet Bahara from New York, refused to resign and was summarily fired. We have since learned that he was investigating the HHS Secretary, Tom Price, for insider trading while serving in Congress. The potential motivation for his firing is truly troubling.