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Who is Sally Yates and why is she testifying before Congress?

Published: Sunday, May 07, 2017 @ 9:46 PM
By: Debbie Lord, Cox Media Group National Content Desk

On Monday, former assistant U.S. attorney general Sally Yates is scheduled to testify before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee and recount what she told the Trump administration about former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s ties to Russian officials.

Yates, according to a source who has been briefed on what she is expected to testify about, will tell the committee that she told White House counsel on Jan. 26 about discrepancies in Flynn’s statements and what the White House was saying about his activities concerning Russia's ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak.

Critics say Flynn promised the Russian ambassador that the Trump administration would work to ease sanctions levied by President Barack Obama over allegations that the Russians had interfered in the 2016 presidential election. Flynn has denied the charge.

Obama imposed sanctions on nine Russians after they were linked to "significant malicious cyber-enabled activities.” The administration also ordered 35 Russian diplomats to leave the country.

So what do we know about Yates and how she has come to testify before the Senate subcommittee? 

  • She was born in Atlanta, Ga., in 1960.
  • She graduated from the University of Georgia with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, and earned a law degree from the University of Georgia School of Law.
  • She went to work for the King & Spalding law firm after graduation and worked for the firm for three years. She became an assistant U.S. attorney, after joining the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Atlanta in 1989.
  • Yates was the lead prosecutor in the trial of Eric Rudolph, the man who was convicted of the bombing at the Centennial Park bombing during the 1996 Olympic Games.
  • In 2010 she was appointed by President Barack Obama as the first U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia. She was the first woman to be appointed to that position.
  • In 2015, Yates was nominated and later confirmed as deputy attorney general of the United States.
  • Yates, 56, is married and has two children. Comer Yates, her husband, who is also an attorney, is the executive director of Atlanta Speech School, a school for children with hearing and learning disabilities.

How did Yates come to testify before a Senate panel?

On Jan. 20, Attorney General Loretta Lynch resigned from her position and Yates became acting attorney general. Jeff Sessions, at the time President Donald Trump’s nominee for attorney general, had not yet been confirmed by the Senate.

Yates stayed in the position for 10 days until she was fired by the Trump administration after she ordered the Department of Justice not to defend the president’s executive order barring immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

"At present, I am not convinced that the defense of the Executive Order is consistent with these responsibilities nor am I convinced that the Executive Order is lawful,” 

Sally Yates wrote in instructing the DOJ not to defend the order after it was challenged in court in Washington state, "Consequently, for as long as I am the Acting Attorney General, the Department of Justice will not present arguments in defense of the Executive Order, unless and until I become convinced that it is appropriate to do so."

The White House said in a statement that Yates “betrayed the Department of Justice by refusing to enforce a legal order designed to protect the citizens of the United States.”

“Ms. Yates is an Obama Administration appointee who is weak on borders and very weak on illegal immigration,” the statement read.

Michael Flynn warning

Yates is set to testify Monday about a warning she gave the White House counsel about what Gen. Flynn said he was doing when he met with the Russian ambassador, and what Justice Department officials believe actually happened between the two.

Yates met with White House Counsel Don McGahn 18 days before Flynn was fired. She is expected to testify that she issued a forceful warning that the story Flynn was telling was not what had happened between the two when they met in late December. She is expected also to say that she recommended that Flynn be fired.

At that point, Flynn had denied talking to Kislyak about the sanctions President Obama had placed on the Russians.

The hearing is set for 2:30 p.m. on Monday.