Curiouser: The Blindsiding of Sally Yates

Remember back in early May I noted the curious timing of events leading up to former Lt. General Michael Flynn’s departure from the Trump administration and the launch of Trump’s ‘travel ban’?

It looks like former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates was completely blindsided by the travel ban, according to The New Yorker.

Yates told McGahn that she would have the Flynn materials for him by Monday morning. She left the White House, stopped at the Justice Department to pick up some documents, and continued on to the airport. She was returning to Atlanta for a dinner honoring a camp for children with serious illnesses and disabilities, which her husband has supported for years. On the way to the airport, she received a call from her deputy, Matt Axelrod. “You’re not going to believe this, but I just read online that the President has executed this travel ban,” he said.

It was the first Yates had heard of the order. “I had been sitting in Don McGahn’s office an hour before that,” she said. “He didn’t tell me.” She later learned that lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel, at the Justice Department, had reviewed the order, and that they had been instructed not to share it with her. A source familiar with the process said that even the most senior Trump aide assigned to Yates’s office didn’t know about the order until he saw the news on CNN.

Yates was in the White House meeting with the White House Counsel and the administration couldn’t bother to flag her and tell her, “By the way, we have something new for you to enforce”?

They couldn’t brief her on the order in advance?

The Office of Legal Counsel was  “instructed not to share it with her”?

They couldn’t call her directly and tell her about the order even after they signed and implemented it?

She had to look up the text of the order on the internet and read it. It doesn’t look as if the Trump administration ever bothered to contact Yates directly about the order, yet they expected her and the rest of federal law enforcement to blindly defend it.

Come Monday evening — after she told the Justice Department that afternoon it cannot enforce the travel ban — she was summarily fired. Trump called her “weak on borders and very weak on illegal immigration” in her dismissal letter.

Either this administration was (is) completely out of its depth, unable to read organizational charts, understand how to administer operations changes, and muster basic team management skills, relying instead on media across the internet and television to disseminate information about executive orders throughout the executive branch…

Or they wanted to completely derail and swamp Yates from pulling together “underlying evidence” describing Flynn’s conduct for the following Monday morning after she left the White House on Friday evening, January 27.

Nor did they have any intention of successfully rolling out a legitimate ban on travel to thwart credible terrorist threats.

Curiouser and curiouser.

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

15 replies
  1. SpaceLifeForm says:

    Throwing people under the bus is the trump MO. Axelrod learns from internet, Comey finds out he is fired from TV.

    This is just not incompetence. Or horiible management. This is out of control insanity.

  2. emptywheel says:

    Some of this came out in her testimony, yes. In particular, it’s inappropriate to go around (even Acting) AG to OLC, but of course that’s something Bush got away with too.

    • Rayne says:

      IMO, this New Yorker piece was a two-fer. It clarified the timeline of events while serving as a beat sweetener. Senator Klobuchar rushed too much, muddled the timeline she was working up during the hearing; she collapsed Yates meeting with McGahn on 27th (same day the EO was signed) with the 30th, when additional evidence was supposed to be provided to McGahn and Yates was subsequently fired.

      And the little tidbit from the male “Trump’s most senior appointee” who must have validated the timeline for Lizza:

      “She called the senior Trump appointee into her office and handed him a copy. As he read it, he thought, “Oh, my God, the President’s gonna fire you for this.”

      We’re supposed to think Yates’ order is prima facie insubordination or betrayal — but Lizza’s piece suggests this same appointee sat through a long discussion with other DOJ staff and Yates evaluating the EO and he never made a persuasive argument to defend the EO?

      At least he was useful to Lizza for validation.

  3. earlofhuntingdon says:

    When you’re the worst bad actor in the room, the first thing you do is derail the lawyers whose jobs are to identify and prosecute bad actors. For good measure, you undermine the process.

    It’s almost Shakespearean: in order to foment a coup, first thing we do is kill all the lawyers, or at least dismiss them while attempting to destroy their credibility, along with that of their future testimony.

    Whatever Team Trump proposes to do, it is not to govern in the common interest.

  4. mitchell says:

    Please to explain what’s so surprising?

    Now, if this was any sort of normal administration, with any sort of decency, okay, surprising.

    But that’s not Trump and his people. They’re monsters acting monstrously.

    • Rayne says:

      Shrugging this as par for the course with Trump’s administration is normalizing.

      We should not allow this to be seen as business as usual if we are ever going to recover from this gross kleptocracy.

      • Peterr says:

        It is par for the course with the Trump administration, and calling it such is not the same as shrugging it off.

        One group of folks who see this business as usual with Trump are those who have been approached or put themselves forward for senior political appointments, but then declined to be considered or withdrew from consideration. Asking someone to be a senior departmental official when the president has a record of telling your subordinates NOT to cooperate with you, their boss, will make any competent administrator run for the hills — which more than a few apparently did.

  5. RUKidding says:

    I think what we’re all learning is that is what the Trump Admin will be like.  Trump proposes to follow no typical “rules of order.”  He’ll do what he likes.  Fire who he likes, when and how he likes, and the truth be damned.  Trump’s only getting started, so get used to it.

    The only thing I can see derailing this miserable, crazed mess is if Trump’s apparent (in various ways) possible beginnings of dementia gets SO bad that it cannot be ignored, as it was with Reagan.  The difference with Reagan was that he was a trained actor, who had the ability to continue learning his lines, most of the time, and parroting them out at appropriate moments.  Plus Reagan had Nancy, who was powerful in her own right (but, in her own way, was mostly committed to the governance of our nation and not just ripping us all off totally), who was able to work with and control her husband.

    There is no Nancy Reagan who can work with and control Trump.

    • Rayne says:

      The biggest difference wasn’t Reagan-as-actor; Trump has been an actor in scripted reality TV for more than 14 years and a showman in both wrestling and pageants.

      The key is experience in governing as an elected official versus experience as a corrupt crony capitalist. It’s a lot easier to manipulate the latter into becoming a kleptocrat.

      • Peterr says:

        Trump has never held a job where he worked for anyone else. He never had a boss, never had a board of directors, and never had shareholders to whom he had to even nominally report.

        Reagan as an actor knew what it meant to work with other actors, to work with directors and producers, and to work with studios and studio heads. He knew that various folks had to sign off on scripts and sets and casting decisions and a thousand and one other things, in order for a movie to get made.

        Trump, OTOH, was the producer as well as the lead, and he held the last word on everything that happened on the Apprentice set. More than any other scripted reality show (from what I have read), Trump held the power himself, and the network basically signed everything over to him in exchange for their cut.

        I’m no fan of Reagan, but comparing him with Trump (hey, they’re both actors) is not even close to fair or accurate.

        • Rayne says:

          I think we’re close to the same page here. Reagan with dementia in office over eight years was a damned sight better than the pussy-grabbing crook in office a mere 167 days — and I hated Reagan with a passion.

  6. Charles says:

    Understanding what is going on is much easier if one assumes that the goal of Trump actions is simply to produce chaos rather than achieve a specific end. How can we maximize uncertainty surrounding the travel ban? By writing a flagrantly unconstitutional ban, firing the person who would have to enforce it, and then defending our actions on Twitter instead of in court.

    • Rayne says:

      I don’t think Trump is capable of that level of machination on his own. This was Bannon’s universal fascism a la Ledeen, and/or the preference of a certain nation-state seeking further disruption of U.S. power, or both.

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