Sally Yates should have stepped down as acting attorney general rather than telling Justice Department attorneys they were not to defend President Donald Trump's travel ban, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Tuesday, while questioning if she had been consulted before the order was issued.
"This whole episode has some very bizarre facts," Gonzales, who served under former President George W. Bush, told CNN "New Day" anchor Chris Cuomo. "As a typical matter, of course, the Department of Justice signs off on any executive order because they will be the ones to defend it."
Ordinarily, conversations would have been held between Yates, the White House Office of Legal Counsel, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, and President Trump over disagreements on the ban, and then it would have been up to Yates whether to proceed.
"At that point, if the White House says we still want to move forward, I think it would have been appropriate for Sally Yates to then resign, as opposed to sending out a blanket order to Department of Justice lawyers that they're not going to defend this executive order," Gonzales said.
Trump fired Yates on Monday night for refusing to defend the executive order, and accused her of "betraying" the Justice Department with her decision about the order, which banned travel from seven Middle Eastern countries for the next 90 days and blocks refugees for 120 days from most countries and from Syria indefinitely.
Gonzales said when he was in the White House, the Justice Department was dealing with many sensitive terrorism issues, but still made it a point to allow the OLC to consult with the attorney general or deputy attorney general.
"I think that's vitally important, and the fact that that might not have occurred here to me is very troubling indeed," Gonzales said. "Also interesting, of course, is the notion that the White House is dealing with congressional staffers and not dealing with the principals themselves."
Gonzales himself resigned in 2007, after he was accused of committing perjury before Congress concerning the National Security Agency's surveillance programs, according to The New York Times, but said Tuesday he did not think a disagreement with a president should lead to a dismissal.
"At that point you have a conversation with the White House, and ultimately hopefully with the president of the United States," Gonzales said. "There was one instance where I had a very serious conversation with the president, and I was prepared to resign my position as attorney general because the president is entitled to have his lawful orders carried out . . . as we all know, the president of the United States uses a great deal of discretion with the protection of our country, so this is not a black and white analysis from my perspective."
Further, it is important for there to be diverse opinions in a president's administration, Gonzales said, and people should feel confident to voice their opinions. Yates was a holdover from the Obama administration and was working pending the confirmation of Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions.
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