Former acting Attorney General Sally Yates bemoaned House Republicans’ decision to oust Rep. Liz Cheney from her leadership post for challenging former President Donald Trump’s lie that he won the 2020 presidential election, saying she never thought she’d cheer on the GOP congresswoman “for simply telling the truth.”
“I never thought that I’d be saying, ‘Yeah, go Liz Cheney.’ But I am. And again, isn’t it a sad commentary that we’re cheering her on for simply telling the truth and for refusing to be silent when others are not?” Yates told CNN’s David Axelrod on an episode of “The Axe Files” podcast released Thursday.
“She is being punished for telling the truth. And I certainly never thought our country would come to that,” she added.
The comments from Yates, who was fired by Trump in the early days of his administration for refusing to defend a controversial immigration order from him, come a day after House Republicans voted to remove the Wyoming Republican from her position as chair of the House Republican Conference after publicly rejecting for months Trump’s election lies.
In a wide-ranging interview with Axelrod, Yates discussed a number of issues, including hostility toward US institutions and the truth, the January 6 Capitol insurrection, police reform and restrictive voting laws.
US institutions and the truth
Yates, who said in her interview that American institutions “are really the most important thing” in the country’s democracy, told Axelrod that she’s “never seen an all-out assault on institutions and certainly in the course of my lifetime, like we saw over the four years of the Trump presidency.”
The former acting attorney general said that assault has now carried over into truth, with there being “an indifference to truth during part of that administration to outright hostility toward it now.”
“And again, as I said, we can debate policies and we should, but it has to be based on a common set of facts, and the lack of any of even being loosely tethered to truth for some, I think is a really dangerous thing for our country,” she said.
Yates also offered a somber outlook on the deadly Capitol riot, saying that while it seemed like there was consensus around the fact that such an attack cannot happen again, that sentiment appears to have “dissipated” in the weeks following January 6.
“I will confess, I did not anticipate there that we would have a — literally a violent insurrection at the Capitol on January 6,” Yates said.
She continued: “And I think all of us watched with horror that day at what was happening at our nation’s Capitol with also a feeling of, OK, this has to be it. Regardless of where one is on the political spectrum, surely we can all agree that this can never happen again — that this is going at the very bedrock of our democracy. And it seemed like that lasted for maybe a week or so. Maybe a little bit longer than that. And then even there it is dissipated now. We can’t even unify around that.”
Weighing in on the recent conviction of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd last year, Yates said she believes the US is “at an inflection point when it comes both to racial justice and specifically police reform.”
“Again, none of this is new either. We’ve been struggling with these issues for not just years, but decades. But I think it has come to a point and it certainly came to the point with the Chauvin trial and with George Floyd where we all were confronted” with the video showing Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck, she said.
“While I think that verdict was essential for us going forward, it’s certainly not sufficient. It was important to hold Chauvin responsible for his actions, but we’ve got more work that needs to be done systemically in police departments,” Yates added.
Restrictive voting laws
Yates said she was “very concerned” about GOP-led restrictive voting bills moving through state legislatures — including the recently passed election law in her home state of Georgia — and the “genesis of these changes” having stemmed from Trump’s lies about the election and to “ostensibly protect against nonexistent voter fraud.”
“To me, this is really insidious to, again, be using this false narrative of widespread voter fraud to make it more difficult for people to vote,” she said.
She slammed Georgia’s law for reducing the number of ballot drop boxes, making it illegal to send out absentee applications to all voters, and limiting voters’ abilities to cast a provisional ballot in a different precinct from where they are registered.
“No one element of this perhaps impacts that many votes, but collectively they can impact a fair number, and every single vote should count,” she told Axelrod.
Yates noted that some lawmakers cited a lack of authority when pressured to overturn election results.
“Now in Georgia, under certain circumstances, the state legislature would have the authority,” she said. “And while, you know, in the past, it would have been impossible to imagine, you would actually have a situation where the state legislature would override the will of the people.”
Still, Yates said she is “hopeful” that some of restrictive voting laws “can be beat back, but I think we probably all recognize that in 2022, it’s going to be a different situation in a number of states.”
This story has been updated with additional details from the episode.