Note to the GOP: Sally Yates is not a good “bad guy” for Republicans. I was all set to dislike former acting attorney general Sally Yates when she appeared yesterday to testify in a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing. I expected to see a run-of-the-mill, tiresome, ACLU-type liberal who, having served in President Barack Obama’s Justice Department, would use her 15 minutes of fame to launch a career in leftist legal/political punditry. Whatever.
Instead, I found Yates to be professional, poised and as direct and informative as she could have been. She even had a Southern accent. Who knew?
Upon further inspection, a quick read of Yates’s biography makes it difficult to claim that she is a stereotypical, garden-variety liberal lawyer/agitator. Early in her career, Yates worked in commercial litigation before being hired by a Republican to serve as assistant U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia and eventually being nominated by Obama for more senior positions in the Justice Department.
Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) even once called her “a great hero of the state of Georgia.”
Still, Yates did some grandstanding yesterday. And at times, some of her exchanges with Democrats appeared slightly choreographed, perhaps a little rehearsed.
As an undoubtedly trusted member of the Obama legal team, she must have at one point been seen as sufficiently malleable, at least with respect to giving Obama-era partisan pieties legal cover. She was a loyal appointee then, and yesterday was no different. Nothing wrong with that.
But all in all, we should not let established facts about partisanship in Obama’s Justice Department cloud or overwhelm the substance of what Yates had to say; specifically, that the president’s national security adviser had gotten seriously out of control and perhaps become susceptible to blackmail by a foreign enemy — namely, Russia.
Of course, the Democrats will try to spin Yates’s testimony as confirmation of whatever half-cocked theory they have about President Trump’s campaign and the Russian government. And their allies in the media will bark at some of the Republicans who did their own posturing from the dais, perhaps seeming less informed and shallow compared with Ms. Yates. But Republicans should not take the bait.
Based on what we now know about Michael Flynn and his fallout with the White House, it seems clear that Yates did the Trump administration and the country a good service by doing what she did.
And even though Yates refused to cooperate with Trump’s original travel ban, the fact is that she paid the price and moved on. And by the way, the administration’s relaunch of the executive order demonstrated that the original was not as polished and prepared as it should have been.
Anyway, if yesterday’s hearing proved anything, it is that Republicans have no business picking a fight with Yates. She is not the enemy.