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Former Acting Attorney General Sally Q. Yates criticized President Donald Trump’s behavior toward the United States Department of Justice and said she thinks Trump has violated essential presidential norms at an Institute of Politics event Tuesday night.
Yates particularly criticized Trump’s treatment of Robert Mueller’s ongoing special counsel investigation into any possible coordination between Trump’s presidential campaign and the Russian government. Yates said that even if Trump has not actually broken the law, she believes he has violated essential political norms and presidential expectations.
“Everybody sort of thinks that we’re going to look to Bob Mueller to tell us whether bad things happened—we already know bad things happened,” she said. “Our standard for our president shouldn’t be, ‘Anything short of a felony is okay.’”
Yates, who served as Deputy Attorney General under former President Barack Obama, spoke for roughly an hour, analyzing the current state of the Department of Justice and reflecting on her own career. Yates made national headlines in January when she refused to uphold Trump’s executive order barring travel from seven majority countries.
“It still is a little weird to me to have served for nearly 30 years in the department, and to be known for an act that was in the last 10 days,” she said.
During the event, Yates said what she called the present administration’s repeated tendency to “goad the Justice Department into going after people” is extremely dangerous to American political and civic norms. She was also critical of the President’s comments about the New York City terrorist attacker, who killed eight people with a truck last week in lower Manhattan. Trump tweeted on Nov. 1 that he thinks the attacker deserves the death penalty.
“That’s one of the norms violated here that I think is really damaging to public confidence,” she said. “Part of the way I think the Justice Department should respond is by not responding to that. I think the folks at DOJ should, and I expect will, do exactly what they think is the right thing to do there regardless of a not-so-subtle message that they’re getting from the president.”
“Still it can have an impact on those cases; it will complicate things for the Justice Department,” Yates said.
Yates ended the evening with a plea for engagement: She said she hopes students and young people interested in civil service will not be discouraged from careers in public service by current political turbulence.
“Maybe the biggest tragedy out of all of this would be if people are discouraged from public service,” she said. “Please don’t be discouraged from going into public service—one person, whether that person is president or not, does not define our country.”
—Staff writer Lucas Ward can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on twitter at @LucaspfWard.
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