In video uncovered and posted by DailyKos user Brainwrap (master of ACA facts and tireless researcher, Charles Gaba), Donald Trump’s attorney general nominee, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III is seen challenging Sally Yates at her 2015 hearing for the post of deputy attorney general. Throughout the questioning, Yates insists that the attorney general must defend the law and the Constitution and be willing to stand up to anyone, even the president.
What is Sessions concerned about? That Yates isn’t independent enough. Sessions clearly views then Attorney General Loretta Lynch as being too supportive of President Obama, and not willing to challenge his orders.
Yates: If I’m going to be doing battle with anybody, I want to make sure I have the law, and the facts, and the precedent behind me, to be able to give a reasoned judgement. And if I’m in a discussion where people have different views, I want to make sure I have what I need to back up my views.
Sessions: You have to watch out, because people will be asking you to do things that you just need to say no about. Do you think the attorney general has a responsibility to say ‘No’ to the president if he asks for something that’s improper?... if the views a president wants to execute are unlawful, should the attorney general or the deputy attorney general say no?
Yates: Senator, I believe that the attorney general or the deputy attorney general has an obligation to follow the law and the Constitution.
At the time, this exchange may have seemed like little more than Sessions fishing for something on which he could base either an attack on President Obama or an excuse to vote against Yates. However, in the light of events over the last week, it’s a remarkable exchange. Sessions repeatedly demands a very high degree of independence from the Justice Department and a willingness for the AG to stand up for what’s legal and constitutional.
It’s a perfect example of why there must now be another hearing for Sessions so that he can answer questions about how he will handle Trump’s aggressive and harmful executive orders before he can be given the chance at being attorney general.
During the hearing, Sessions continued to press Yates on the idea that the AG must be willing to stand up to the president.
Sessions: Like any CEO with a law firm, sometimes the lawyers have to tell the CEO, ‘Mr. CEO you can’t do that. Don’t do that. You’ll get us sued. It’s going to be in violation of the law, you’ll regret it. Please.’ No matter how headstrong they might be. Do you feel like that’s the duty of the attorney general’s office?
Yates: I do believe that’s the duty of the attorney general’s office; to fairly and impartially evaluate the law and to provide the president and the administration with impartial legal advice.
But exactly the kind of independence that Sessions then demanded was labeled “betrayal” by the Trump regime — a regime that seems to brook only blind obedience.
Sessions even questioned Yates on a subject very close to the current crisis.
Sessions: Immigration law is important to be consistently and effectively enforced. Should it not?
Yates: I believe that all of our laws should be consistently and effectively enforced within the confines of the Constitution.
In his reply Sessions, who despite a record level of enforcement felt that Obama was not following immigration law strictly enough, tried to back up his position with an unnamed poll saying that immigration enforcement officials had “low morale.” But eventually he wandered back to a poignant conclusion.
Sessions: I remember John Ashcroft as an attorney general for Bush. He’s been celebrated. When he was in the hospital they tried to get him to sign a document that dealt with terrorism that he thought went too far. He refused to do so. So I hope that you feel free to say ‘No’ in the character of John Ashcroft and others who said ‘No’ to President Nixon on certain issues.
Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III finished his questioning of Yates by directly and bluntly demanding her ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer on the constitutionality of President Obama’s executive orders on immigration policy. He clearly felt that this was important. Clearly felt that it was in the bounds of what the Senate should ask.
No further action should be taken on Sessions’ nomination until he is made to appear again before the Senate to answer exactly the same questions that he laid before Yates.