For now, Sally Yates is not running for public office.
Yates, the former acting attorney general who was fired by President Trump when she refused to defend his travel ban, is returning Tuesday as a partner at her old law firm, King & Spalding.
Yates, 57, served 27 years at the Justice Department, rising through the ranks as an assistant U.S. attorney and then U.S. attorney in Atlanta. In 2015, President Obama chose her to be deputy attorney general, the department’s No. 2 official responsible for managing its day-to-day operations and 113,000 employees.
At Justice, she led Obama’s clemency initiative, in which the president granted commutations to thousands of low-level drug offenders who met certain criteria set out by the administration. She also wrote a policy that became known as “the Yates memo,” which made the prosecution of individual executives — not just the corporations that employ them — a top priority.
Despite speculation that Yates, who has spoken out against actions of the Trump administration, would seek political office, she insists that’s off the table.
“I am definitely drawn to public service,” Yates said in an interview with The Washington Post. “I wouldn’t have stayed at DOJ for 27 years if that weren’t the case. But I’ve never really felt the urge to run for office. That’s a different animal to me than straight-up public service. . . . I can’t envision a scenario where I would be running for office.”
Yates said that her husband told her “just don’t say ‘never’ because you never know what, sometime down the road, you might want to do.”
Yates met her husband, Comer Yates, an attorney who runs a school for children with speech, hearing, language or learning disabilities, more than three decades ago when they were both lawyers at King & Spalding, an Atlanta-based firm that has a Washington office.
Yates will work out of both cities, spearheading the firm’s investigations practice and working for companies, sports organizations, universities or other entities that need an independent investigator.
Since September, Yates has been a lecturer at Georgetown Law School. She recently emceed an event called “Democracy in the Balance” that included former Justice Department officials from both political parties.
Yates said she will continue to lecture at Georgetown and speak out on issues she cares about, including criminal justice reform. “I missed being a lawyer,” Yates said of her decision to return to the firm.
Griffin Bell, the attorney general under President Jimmy Carter, was the person who encouraged Yates to become a prosecutor in the Justice Department when they were working together at King & Spalding.
“His words were, ‘just come back in a few years,” she said. “Well, twenty-nine years later, I’m making it back now.”