Former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates said the Trump administration’s attempt to undermine public faith in democratic institutions is the “most dangerous thing” happening in the U.S. right now.
Yates, who was fired by President Donald Trump for refusing to carry out his travel ban, said his “systematic effort” to corrode the legitimacy of the Justice Department, the intelligence community, the courts and the free press could cause damage that outlasts the administration. Yates spoke Nov. 28 at Bloomberg’s “The Year Ahead” summit in New York.
“You can debate specific decisions about these institutions, you can debate whether you agree with a particular decision by a judge, but trying undermine the very legitimacy of that judge or of our judicial system, just by way of example, is something that is not only new but I think really dangerous,” said Yates, now a partner at King & Spalding.
Career government employees who are dedicated to their jobs will help prevent the worst damage, Yates said, but the public shouldn’t assume the U.S. is “elastic enough” that confidence will bounce back after Trump leaves office. She said the Justice Department is at particular risk.
“The Department of Justice really can only function if the citizens of this country respect and believe that decisions are being made based on the facts and the law and nothing else,” she said.
Yates also defended Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion by Trump’s campaign. She rejected Trump’s consistent criticism of Mueller, whom he’s accused of being conflicted, abused and running a “witch hunt.“
“He’s a straight arrow who is going to call it as he sees it, without an agenda to try to get anyone,” Yates said. “But likewise we should take comfort that he’s not going to try to gin up some case that doesn’t exist, either, to satisfy anyone’s interest.“
The White House didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the remarks.
Yates said Trump’s regular attacks on the Special Counsel wouldn’t bother him.
“The tweets and all that kind of stuff, if it rolls off anyone’s back, it rolls off Bob Mueller’s back,” she said.
Trump fired Yates in January 2017 for interfering in his plan to ban travelers from entering the U.S. from several predominantly Muslim countries. She’d been serving as acting attorney general while former Attorney General Jeff Sessions awaited confirmation, and was deputy attorney general for 20 months before that.
Yates served for five years as U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, where she had spent most of her career and was the lead prosecutor for the 1996 Summer Olympics bomber.
--With assistance from Toluse Olorunnipa.
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