It’s not clear whether Senator Ted Cruz knew exactly what he was getting into when he levied some pointed questions to former acting attorney general Sally Yates at Monday’s hearing. Cruz is known as an intimidating debater, but Yates was more than prepared for the challenge.
The exchange came during the Senate Judicial Committee hearing on Russian interference in the 2016 election. Rather than asking Yates about the particular issue at hand, Cruz took the discussion to President Trump’s travel ban which Yates refused to support while serving as acting attorney general. She was later fired for her stand.
Cruz asked Yates if an attorney general has the authority to direct the Department of Justice to defy a president’s order. Yates responded, “I don’t know. . . but I don’t think it would be a good idea, and that’s not what I did in this case.” The judicial gloves came off: Cruz started reading Yates a statute that grants the US president authority to suspend immigration into the country. And Yates responded to Cruz by quoting from the Immigration and Nationality Act, “No person shall receive any preference or priority or be discriminated against in the issuance of an immigrant visa because of the person’s race, sex, nationality, place of birth, or place of residence.” Yates finished her response by stating that her main concern was whether or not Trump’s travel ban order violated the constitution. “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 his intents were laid out in his statements,” she said.
Cruz interrupted Yates asking if she knew of any other instance in which an attorney general directed the Department of Justice to defy a policy. “I’m not, but I’m also not aware of a situation where the Office of Legal Counsel was advised to not tell the attorney general about anything until after it was over,” Yates replied.
The sparring led to an avalanche of response on social media:
Ted Cruz doesn’t often get bested in a legal debate. Sally Yates just bested Ted Cruz in a legal debate.
— Matt Viser (@mviser) May 8, 2017
Put the transcript of Sally Yates lecturing Ted Cruz about the Constitution on my tombstone!!
— Molly Knight (@molly_knight) May 8, 2017
Yates just OWNED Ted Cruz.
— Seth Abramson (@SethAbramson) May 8, 2017
Ted Cruz doing his part here to help Sally Yates launch her political career, should she want one.
— Josh Barro (@jbarro) May 8, 2017
Credit: Boston Globe