The Time Jeff Sessions Told Sally Yates She’d Have to “Say No to the President”

Democratic senators are using the damning clip to oppose his nomination to become the next attorney general.


On Monday, President Donald Trump swiftly moved to fire acting attorney general Sally Yates, a holdover from the Obama administration, after she refused to defend the president’s controversial immigration executive order.

Shortly after her ouster, a video segment from Yates’ 2015 confirmation hearing emerged, in which Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.)—whose Senate confirmation vote to become the next attorney general is currently underway—advised the then-deputy attorney general nominee that she must be willing to stand up to the president if she was asked to carry out and defend “unlawful” actions.

“You have to watch out because people will be asking you to do things you just need to say ‘no’ about,” Sessions said. “Do you think the Attorney General has the responsibility to say no to the president if he asks for something that’s improper?”

“If the views the president wants to execute are unlawful, should the attorney general or the deputy attorney general say no?,” he continued.

Yates answered affirmatively, saying she believed the role had an obligation to follow the Constitution and provide “independent legal advice” to the president.

During Sessions’ confirmation vote Tuesday morning, several Democratic senators, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), pointed to the 2015 video clip to underscore the hypocrisy exemplified by Trump’s decision to fire her. Both Feinstein and Leahy are voting against Sessions’ nomination, arguing they have no confidence the Alabama senator will follow his own advice and stand up to Trump.

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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