The former DOJ official’s warnings are disturbing. But they are exactly what America needs to hear.
As Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress continue to distort, slander, and undermine all the democratic institutions, norms, and principles Americans once took for granted, many wonder where we as a nation will go from here.
Former Justice Department official Sally Yates laid out her thoughts on the matter in a stirring op-ed in USA TODAY.
“Over the course of our nation’s history, we have faced inflection points — times when we had to decide who we are as a country and what we stand for. Now is such a time,” begins Yates’s thesis. “Beyond policy disagreements and partisan gamesmanship, there is something much more fundamental hanging in the balance. Will we remain faithful to our country’s core values?”
Yates is best known for serving briefly as Trump’s acting attorney general. She was unceremoniously fired after instructing DOJ officials not to enforce the Muslim ban. During her testimony to a Senate committee in May, Yates also revealed that her firing came on the very day she warned the White House that then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn had been compromised and "could be blackmailed" by Russia and invited the White House to review the evidence.
Though she never mentions Trump by name in her op-ed, Yates makes it clear what is at stake under his presidency.
“Despite our differences,” writes Yates, “we as Americans have long held a shared vision of what our country means and what values we expect our leaders to embrace. Today, our continued commitment to these unifying principles is needed more than ever.”
Yates goes on to outline the most critical of those principles:
The rule of law depends not only on things that are written down, but also on important traditions and norms, such as apolitical law enforcement. That’s why Democratic and Republican administrations alike, at least since Watergate, have honored that the rule of law requires a strict separation between the Justice Department and the White House on criminal cases and investigations. This wall of separation is what ensures the public can have confidence that the criminal process is not being used as a sword to go after one’s political enemies or as a shield to protect those in power. It’s what separates us from an autocracy.
This principle is under far greater attack than most Americans are registering right now.
Yates also calls on Congress to hold Trump accountable for his attacks on truth and fact. "We can’t control whether our public servants lie to us," she writes. "But we can control whether we hold them accountable for those lies or whether, in either a state of exhaustion or to protect our own political objectives, we look the other way and normalize an indifference to truth."
Trump and his allies are engaging in a relentless game of character assassination against special counsel Robert Mueller as he continues to pursue Trump’s role in Russian attacks on the U.S. election system. There are rumors that Trump might try to fire him — or else fire his boss, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, whose replacement could greatly restrict Mueller’s investigative powers.
The American people must demand that this be a hard line in the sand. Trump cannot continue to politicize and discredit the rule of law — or the cracks in our democracy will only grow.