Preet Bharara: Hey, listeners, a quick announcement before we jump into today’s episode. You’ve heard us talk about the CAFE Insider, whose members get a weekly podcast hosted by frequent Stay Tuned guest, Anne Milgram, and me. Members also get bonus content from Stay Tuned, a weekly note from me, early access to live events and more. We’ve been fortunate to have many of you ask about giving Insider as a gift. Well, starting now, you can. Head to cafe.com/gift to help your friends make sense of law and politics. Annual gift memberships are 49.99, 30% off the regular annual price. Thank you for being a member of the Stay Tuned community and we hope you and your friends will consider joining Insider. Again, that’s cafe.com/gift. Happy holidays, and onto the show. From CAFE, welcome to Stay Tuned. I’m Preet Bharara.
Sally Yates: Totally unprepared for how completely taken and dedicated I would become to the mission of it. Your job is to do the right thing and you’re using your powers for good and not for evil.
Preet Bharara: That’s Sally Yates, live from the Buckhead Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia. A 27-year veteran of the Department of Justice, Sally started out as an assistant U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia and rose in the ranks, becoming the first female U.S. attorney for that office in 2009, the same year as I became U.S. attorney. Sally went on to serve as the deputy attorney general in the Obama administration, and then stayed on during the Trump transition at the president’s request as the acting attorney general for 10 days before being fired by Trump himself. Sound familiar? We’ll get into all of that, plus we’re having a mission matters, the importance of humor and the one wall we actually need. That’s coming up. Stay tuned.
Preet Bharara: My guest this week is Sally Yates. She’s a former federal prosecutor and a good friend. You may recognize her name because back in 2017, she was fired by Donald Trump for refusing to enforce the infamous travel ban, an executive order issued without warning that attempted to ban travelers and refugees from several countries with Muslim majority populations. While that version of the ban was contested in court, a later iteration of the order was upheld by the Supreme Court in June 2018. Today, Sally is a partner at an Atlanta based firm, King & Spalding, and an outspoken defender of our institutions and our country’s principles. She joined me on stage in Atlanta to talk about her time in the Department of Justice, how to keep cool under pressure, why in the Trump era we still shouldn’t govern to the extreme and how one of the most difficult decisions she ever made involved a man by the name of Eric Rudolph. But first, let’s get to your questions. Stay tuned.
Mike: Hi, Preet and Anne. This is Mike calling from Lynnwood, Washington. I listen every week to both of your shows and they’re great. Do you think it would be helpful for the impeachment articles to list a specific U.S. statutory code numbers for the campaign finance law and impoundment act in order to clarify to the public the actual United States laws that are on the books that Trump has actually broken? Congressman Lieu of California did so yesterday in the judiciary committee meeting and it seemed powerful. Thanks, and keep up the great work you do.
Preet Bharara: Mike, that’s a great question. I think there’s been a lot of speculation about what the articles of impeachment would look like. The big news this week obviously is that we have now seen the draft articles. They may change over the course of the next day as the house judiciary committee goes into what’s called markup and there could be some additions and there could be additions of the sort that you mentioned. The specific insertion of statutory code citations. My view is the articles of impeachment are short, clear, concise. There are two of them. They’re understandable. Abuse of power, obstruction of Congress. You’ll note that not only are there not specific statutory citations in these draft articles, but even the words that we’ve been hearing a lot of over the last number of weeks, extortion, bribery, quid pro quo, those words are not in the articles either. And my sense is there was a deliberate decision probably after some considerable debate to try to make this plain English, to try to not make this overly legalistic.
Preet Bharara: The public understands obstruction, the public understands abusive power, and determinations on whether or not that threshold has been met are in the eye of the beholder, and those beholders for now at the impeachment stage are the members of the house. And it’s not clear to me, although I see the argument for it, that you would strengthen the articles of impeachment by listing specific statutory codes because I think the nature of impeachment and a trial in the Senate that would result in the removal of the president from office, in some ways, I think you don’t want that to degrade into a hyper-technical assessment of the elements of particular statutes that were enacted long after the constitution was established. Remember, the constitution predates all of these current statutory codes that some might want to put into the articles of impeachment.
Preet Bharara: There are downsides because it renders a decision a little bit of morphous. It makes it a little less clear what you’re saying the president did wrong and how it comports with a usual understanding of the violation of law, a high crime or misdemeanor, but impeachment and trial on impeachment is something different from what we see in everyday courts for a lot of reasons that I’ve mentioned before and additional reasons that I’ll mention going forward. So it’s a good question. I think they could have done it that way. I think it makes sense not to.
Eric: Hi, Preet. This is Eric calling from Madison, Wisconsin. In various types of legal proceedings, you hear different standards. Sometimes, you hear a beyond a reasonable doubt. Sometimes, you hear the preponderance of the evidence. I’m just wondering, in an impeachment proceeding, which of those or is there some other standard that’s appropriate? And is that really determined? Thank you.
Preet Bharara: So, Eric, I’ve been thinking about this a lot and I think it’s an issue that has not gotten as much attention as you might’ve expected it to. In criminal cases, like I oversaw for years, they were very specific standards, for getting a search warrant, probable cause, for getting an indictment in the grand jury, probable cause, to convict at trial, proof beyond a reasonable doubt, in civil cases, there’s a standard known as preponderance of the evidence, as you mentioned, and that’s very important. So that the finder of fact or the judge, depending on the case, knows exactly how to apply the law and the facts and knows exactly what the threshold is to determine liability or not liability or guilt versus no guilt. So it’s an interesting thing. It’s reason number 468 why this impeachment and subsequent trial, although vaguely analogous to a criminal proceeding, is actually very, very different.
Preet Bharara: I have not seen, and maybe some impeachment scholars can correct me on this, I have not seen any articulated standard of proof, either for impeachment or for conviction in the Senate. There’s none in the constitution. The constitution provides the entire and sole basis for the impeachment power of the Congress, which is why all sorts of questions with respect to how the evidence is received, what kind of evidence can be received, what the overall rules are, those are decided by the body itself, the Senate itself.
Preet Bharara: Now I’ve seen an argument made by some people, including by representative Justin Amash, who I think is dead on with respect to a lot of his analysis, and he has urged his colleagues in the house to vote in favor of impeachment analogizing that impeachment is just a set of allegations. It’s just an indictment, like you would have in an ordinary criminal case, and the threshold for that is probable cause that a crime was committed and it was probably done by the person that is named in the indictment. And he says, “Look, that low burden of proof, that low threshold has been met,” in the case of Donald Trump and Ukraine. And while he’s technically correct there, as I’ve said before and as I observed when I was in office and as I think I wrote about in my book, prosecutors don’t march into the grand jury if they have just a shade above probable cause because they know that the case is not over then. Then they have to take the case to trial in front of a jury where the burden of proof is much, much higher.
Preet Bharara: And I think prosecutors worth their salt and who are responsible think ahead to how it’s going to go at trial and not willy-nilly run into the grand jury every time they have one tiny iota of evidence that puts it just beyond and above the threshold of probable cause. So I’m not sure I agree with Justin Amash’s analogy there, but putting that aside, I actually think there’s overwhelming proof that the president committed a high crime or misdemeanor. Then we get to the question of what the standards should be in the Senate.
Preet Bharara: And I don’t know that it’s beyond a reasonable doubt. I think some people will argue that, particularly those who want to vote to acquit the president and say, “Well, there’s a lack of clarity and also, you don’t have proof beyond a reasonable doubt.” There is some doubt as to the motives of the president, the intent of the president. They’ll point to other aspects of testimony that put into some doubt what I think are clear conclusions and others think are clear conclusions. But again, this is not just a constitutional and legal process, it’s also a political process. And the senators can essentially choose to vote how they want and whether it’s based on conscience because they think the president has abused his power and obstructed Congress or their vote is based on expedient political reasoning because they don’t want to incur the ire of the president. That’s up to them. So like you, I look forward to seeing how people apply what standards.
Preet Bharara: This question comes from Twitter, from Twitter user, RationalPerson. I like the handle. In the unlikely event Donald Trump is impeached by the Senate, is he allowed to still run for office in 2020? Hashtag, ask Preet. So, RationalPerson, I think what you meant to say is in the unlikely event that he is convicted in the Senate, not impeached, impeachment happens in the house, can he still run for office in 2020? Well, in the unlikely event that, that happens and it is based on the articles of impeachment that have been drawn up, the answer is provided by the last sentence in the draft articles of impeachment that directly bear on this president’s ability to be in office in the future. And literally, the last sentence of the articles of impeachment read as follows, quote, president Trump thus warrants impeachment and trial, removal from office and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States.
Preet Bharara: So assuming this is the language on which the president is impeached and then thereafter, convicted in the Senate, it would be a bar on him running in 2020 or any year thereafter. Looks like there would also be a bar on his being appointed to any position of trust, which is most positions in the United States federal government, and also would bar him I think from running for House or Senate. This question comes from Twitter user Bob Cawley, who asks, “couldn’t the House Dems pursue court cases for access to witness’ docs while moving forward with hearing/impeachment? Seems like an important precedent to establish force of House subpoenas. Hashtag [inaudible 00:10:27].”
Preet Bharara: Yeah, I think this is a point of debate, and Milgrim and I have discussed this very question on the Cafe Insider Pod, and I’ve discussed it with other friends of mine, and I think that the House Dems were in some ways between a rock and a hard place. I have worried for a while that there’s additional information that’s being left on the table while they proceed with great speed to impeachment, and then trial in the Senate. But there is a clock, the election isn’t far away, and sometimes these proceedings can get bogged down. And Adam Schiff, in announcing the articles of impeachment this week, made a pretty good case for why you don’t wait.
Preet Bharara: He pointed specifically to the ongoing litigation relating to Don McGahn’s testimony, and took eight months for them to get a decision on it. Now, that doesn’t directly answer your question of why not proceed now, and then in parallel, try to get that other testimony and see what happens with it. And I think there’s a reasonable argument for that. I might have done it that way, but it is awkward to proceed with impeachment and trial and have that be concluded, and then three months after that, had the litigation to be resolved in your favor perhaps. And now, all of a sudden you can take the testimony of someone like John Bolton. What the hell are you going to do with that at that point? And this is not a great legal response, but there’s a little bit of awkwardness in suddenly having that happen.
Preet Bharara: It also, by the way, doesn’t allow closure. And I think there’s a reason why both Democrats and Republicans want there to be an endpoint to all of this. So it just seems like an odd situation to be in, an odd world to be in; with impeachment accomplished, the trial accomplished, and you still have seven cases winding their way through the courts with respect to testimony that was needed in connection with those things that are now already done. It’s a little odd, and I don’t blame the Dems for proceeding this way, although there’s a reasonable basis to have done it the other way around. Sally Yates. Are they standing? So that is a first.
Sally Yates: They didn’t stand for you?
Preet Bharara: They did not. They went to sleep for me. How are you?
Sally Yates: I’m great. It’s so much fun actually to not just be listening to your… Although, I was listening for a while, but not just to be listening to your podcast, but to actually get to participate in it. So I’m thrilled to be here.
Preet Bharara: I don’t know how you’re going to answer this, but I’ve got to ask: what does it feel like to be an American icon? And we’ll get into why that may be and what happened at the beginning of the Trump administration, but people have a lot of hope in you and they see a lot in you and they are inspired by you, and they stand in a clap like you’re a musician in a rock band, which I think is fully deserved. How do you feel about that?
Sally Yates: Well first, it’s incredibly generous. The reaction that you all had here tonight and that happened some other times. It doesn’t happen and some other times… What. There is that Twitter thing, so not everybody loves me.
Preet Bharara: You’ve got to block people more.
Sally Yates: Yeah, you can do that? I didn’t know that was…
Preet Bharara: Yeah.
Sally Yates: When you’re in the midst of a storm, when you’re in the eye of the storm and, look, you had your own storm, you don’t really have an appreciation for how other people are reacting or are going to react. And after I left the department, and I can say fired after some therapy, now I’m good with that.
Preet Bharara: Let’s say it together.
Sally Yates: Yeah, fired. Okay, not quite together, but that’s a little off there. But I started getting letters from people and it wasn’t easy to find me. The Marshall service that was responsible for my protection pretty much wiped me off of the internet, so there’s no address or anything. And so, people would send letters to DOJ or to the Atlanta Bar, to my law school, different places that then would make their way to our home address. And I was so moved that people… But I really don’t think it’s me. I think it’s more that folks were looking for something that would give them hope that the world is going to get back to normal again. The fact of the matter is that I just did my job and there’s been… But I also feel a responsibility for that too.
Preet Bharara: We’ll come back to the end of your public service career. Let’s go to the beginning of it.
Sally Yates: Okay.
Preet Bharara: Explain to folks, and I’ve done this from time to time with law students and with people who are advanced in their careers, why on earth you decide to spend a gazillion years in the justice department? What attracted you about being a federal prosecutor?
Sally Yates: I didn’t think I was going to spend a gazillion years there. When I went I was in private practice here at King and Spalding then, and I thought I was going to go for a few years, and then go back to the firm or some other firm.
Preet Bharara: But why’d you go in the first place?
Sally Yates: I went because Griffin Bell, who was the former Attorney General under president Carter, was a partner at KNS and I had done a pro bono case in the office; most important case I’ll ever have in my life, representing the family of the first African American landowners in Bear County. And it’s a long story in and of itself. But he saw how important that case was to me and how meaningful it was. And he said, “I think you ought to go to the US Attorney’s Office here.”
Sally Yates: And at that time, and I’m dating myself, this is back late eighties, there weren’t that many people from big firms that were going to the US Attorney’s Office. So I didn’t really have a lot of other people to look to for that. So I went really on his recommendation, totally unprepared for how completely taken and dedicated I would become to the mission of it. It wasn’t just getting trial experience or handling cases on your own. Yeah, that’s part of what you do. But as you were saying back there, your job is to do the right thing, and you’re using your powers for good and not for evil.
Preet Bharara: It’s hard to leave a job like that.
Sally Yates: It really is.
Preet Bharara: You know what it takes? Getting fired.
Sally Yates: Fired. Yeah, that’s it, yeah.
Preet Bharara: But you left a lot of money on the table.
Sally Yates: Yeah, I didn’t line up the sandbags outside the office or anything to have to drag me out.
Preet Bharara: I did.
Sally Yates: Yeah.
Preet Bharara: You mentioned mission.
Sally Yates: Yeah.
Preet Bharara: And it’s a corny word for a lot of folks. Why is that an important word? And you used it in office, I used it. Why is it an important word and what is the mission?
Sally Yates: The mission is really simple, yet difficult to achieve sometimes. It’s to seek justice, and that’s it. It’s not to put people in prison. It’s not to win trials. It’s to seek justice. And sometimes, that means, like you were describing there, when you have corrupt elected officials that need to be held accountable, that means sending people to prison. But other times, it means looking at an investigation and making a decision that it’s not appropriate to move forward there. And it also means being proportional; holding people accountable also means doing it in proportion to their level of wrongdoing. And so, all of that is about seeking… and doing it in a way that engenders, the trust of the people that you’re serving. It’s not just about what the end result is, it’s how you go about doing it.
Preet Bharara: What’s funny to me is the mission is deadly serious. And I think in the best cases, it’s inspiring and you’re an inspirational figure in the work that the people in our office… I will always say what inspires me about being the US Attorney is the people around me and the work that they do. And it’s deadly serious. And when you stand up as the Deputy Attorney General, the US Attorney, and you announce charges, it’s always serious, and no one’s smiling. And people are very surprised. I crack a joke from time to time. Now, as a podcaster, I crack more jokes than I did before. It almost feels weird to say that doing that because of the stakes, that being in that job was fun. Was it fun and why?
Sally Yates: Yeah. Absolutely, there are aspects of it that are fun. If you have a complicated white collar case and you’re trying to figure it out and to pull on the threads and to see if you can put together what actually happened here; yeah, that’s challenging, and that can be fun. Sentencings were never fun, never fun because invariably there are family members who are sitting or standing right behind the defendant, who are going to suffer as a result of this individual going to prison. And I remember one time, there was a young AUSA in my office after I was US Attorney, and she told me that she just had to quit. She’d only been there about a year and a half, and she said, sentencings are just too hard. And I told her the day she needs to quit is the day that sentencing stop becoming hard, because that should never be something that you take joy in.
Preet Bharara: Did you quit?
Sally Yates: Not then, but about five years later.
Preet Bharara: Five years later?
Sally Yates: Yeah.
Preet Bharara: Not to plug my book again, but I have a substantial section-
Sally Yates: What’s the name of your book again?
Preet Bharara: Doing Justice. Available everywhere. I’ve said in the podcast before, I don’t know if I’ve ever discussed this with you and I don’t know if you have an aspiration to be on the bench, I don’t. And the principle reason I don’t, because I don’t want to sentence people, which seems odd for a federal prosecutor who served for a long time, who made recommendations about sentencing, and who made charging decisions that basically made clear what the sentencing had to be.
Preet Bharara: It has never been clear to me how you decide to be God in the… And you need to people to do it, but how to decide how many days, weeks, months, years, you separate a human being from their liberty based on some chart, and it’s not for me. So, I don’t do that. This’ll lead into your termination from your service. Can you explain to folks? I’ve tried it a bunch, and I think you’ll do it more eloquently than I will. So people think that you have all these cabinet positions and you have all these agencies, commerce department, energy department, Department of Defense, et cetera. And Department of Justice is one of a bunch.
Preet Bharara: But you and I have discussed and believe the Department of Justice is different from all the rest in terms of what the president can demand in terms of his will, and his bidding. He can tell all sorts of folks we want to do something different on trade, we want to do something different on the economy, but there are limits to what he can say about what the justice department does. Can you explain how the justice department is different and why it should be?
Sally Yates: And you know, DOJ is not just another federal agency. Yes, of course it’s in the executive branch. But literally, through democratic and republican administrations, this is not a partisan thing here. Presidents in the past have recognized that the rule of law only works, and the public can only have confidence in it if the decisions are made based on the facts and the law and nothing else. And so, there has been a wall, one wall we actually need. A wall between the White House and the justice department when it comes to criminal investigations and prosecutions.
Preet Bharara: And that wall by the way is free, and the Mexicans don’t have to pay for it.
Sally Yates: Although the wall is a little dangling these days-
Preet Bharara: Porous these days.
Sally Yates: Yes, a little porous these days. And so the president could certainly talk to DOJ about broad policy objectives that he or someday she, might want to accomplish. But never ever, ever would anybody at the White House have anything to do with any criminal case. It ensures that the law can’t be used as a sword to punish political enemies or to protect political friends. And again, that’s been observed through administrations past four decades since Watergate. And in large respect, a reaction to Watergate.
Preet Bharara: But it’s not actually in a statute, right?
Sally Yates: No.
Preet Bharara: It is not actually written in scripture, criminal law, that the President of the United States can’t call up a local US attorney and say, you know what? You should look at the mayor of Atlanta and investigate the mayor of Atlanta. You and I believe think whether that person is a friend or a foe or of political benefit to the president. You and I view that kind of an order on the part of an elected official, the most powerful elected official in the country to a local US attorney to investigate a particular person at the behest of the president, not only unethical, not only against the rule of law, I would venture and we’ll get to this later, impeachable. Even though it does not violate any particular statute. Reaction?
Sally Yates: Yeah, it’s a norm. And I know that that makes some people uncomfortable to say it’s just a norm, but the norms are like the fabric that hold everything together. A lot of how our government operates properly is based on norms. And it requires the good faith of the people who are in the positions who are going to observe those norms.
Sally Yates: Some people say, you ought to make it a rule that there can’t be any involvement there. And I get that, but I think we have to be really careful about not over-correcting from where we are right now, and unnecessarily tie the hands of a president in the future when there could be some set of circumstances where, I can’t exactly picture what they are right now, but there could be some set of circumstances where a president should be able to have some type of dialogue with the Department of Justice on a particular criminal case. And so trying to govern to the extreme that we have right now, could put us in a more difficult position in the future.
Preet Bharara: Also explain to folks the general and I think correct and appropriate and ethical culture of a US attorney’s office in so far as nobody knows the political affiliation of anybody. I used to say we’d this conversation in anticipation of the interview tonight that there are… If you’re in the Department of Justice, you think the world consists of three political parties, Democrat, Republican, federal prosecutor, which is a way of saying you don’t care about the first two. Explain that to folks.
Sally Yates: Yeah, and that’s one of the things that’s been so disturbing I think about watching, the last of years is that I think some people in the public have the perception that decisions are being made at DOJ or the FBI based on someone’s partisan preference. I can tell you, when I was, I had no idea whether my fellow AUSAs were Republicans or Democrats, unless you sort of happen to get into a discussion with them.
Sally Yates: And certainly, when I was US attorney, I had absolutely no idea and did not care about the partisan affiliation of anyone that I was hiring. Most of the corruption cases that I did when I was here in Atlanta, they happened to be Democrats. There were definitely some Republicans as well, but that’s just not a factor. And that’s not something unique about us. That’s about how DOJ works, and how there are really dedicated civil servants at the Department of Justice. Just like some of the dedicated civil servants that you saw in the impeachment hearing over the last couple of weeks.
Preet Bharara: So you had a long tenure in the US attorney’s office here in Atlanta, then you got tapped to be one of the most important public law enforcement officials in the country as the deputy attorney general. And then for a brief period, how long? 10 days? The attorney general.
Sally Yates: [crosstalk 00:27:19].
Preet Bharara: When Anthony Scaramucci got fired after 11 days, did you think like, God damn it!
Sally Yates: You’re comparing me to the Mooch? I mean, really? That’s-
Preet Bharara: It was a cheap laugh line.
Sally Yates: And I took the bait, right?
Preet Bharara: Yes, that’s what counts in the evening show. So you’re in that position, I think you’ve written and said that you thought it would be uneventful because it’s the standard sort of practice that there’s a transitional period and not a ton of stuff happens usually in the first week to 10 days of an administration. This one was different. And so on day eight I think, the President of the United States issues an executive order, I guess we refer to it as a travel ban about which you as the Attorney General of the United States of America in an acting position, had no warning and no heads up. Can you first say how crazy that is?
Sally Yates: Totally crazy. I mean, the way that things work is that if you’re going to do something like this, then you would have what’s called an inter-agency process. And I know that sounds incredibly bureaucratic, but really it’s not. What it means is, is that you get input from the different agencies who actually know something about this, about how it would-
Preet Bharara: Oh, expertise.
Sally Yates: Yeah, I know it seems quaint, doesn’t it? That you get input from them about first, the president might talk about what his objectives are, and the agencies will work through how they might be able to legally be able to obtain those objectives. So there’s nothing there, this was like cooked up in a closet.
Preet Bharara: So that happens, right? And I know you’ve been asked this a bunch of times, but just not as a lawyer, but just as a person. How do you hear about it? And what is your reaction as Sally Yates, not the acting attorney general. Holy crap. Do you curse? What do you say to your husband like, not to get into marital privilege, but I’m trying to understand because you and I have talked, and we’re friends, but I never asked you in that moment when you found out about this over-broad travel ban before you wrote the memo and did all those courageous things. In that moment, what were you thinking?
Sally Yates: Well, like I said, I have to tell you what the context was of the moment because you’re right, I had expected this to be this uneventful time where you just sort of keep everything running smoothly.
Preet Bharara: Yeah, like you make sure there’s staples in the stapler.
Sally Yates: Yeah, it’s not supposed to be a big thing. In fact, my chief of staff, when she was leaving, because I could only keep one staff person with me. And the career people are still there, but just one political appointee. She told me things were going to be so quiet during that time, I would have time for a lot of long, boozy lunches. Those came later, I had those.
Preet Bharara: Like on day 11.
Sally Yates: Yeah. Could have been the night, [crosstalk 00:30:35].
Preet Bharara: Yeah.
Sally Yates: But I was in the car actually leaving The White House, because the Mike Flynn thing had happened during this time as well. And I was there for the second day talking to Don McGahn, The White House Counsel about Mike Flynn and his interaction with the Russian Ambassador, Ambassador Kislyak. God, this just seems like a lifetime ago, doesn’t it? And so I’m in the car, I’ve just left the second meeting with McGahn. As you can imagine, this is a pretty tense time. I’m in the car and I get a call from my principal deputy, you know the one person who could stay with me. And he says, “You’re not going to believe this. But I was just online reading the New York Times and it looks like President Trump has signed some sort of travel ban.” And as you said, this is the first I had heard of it. It’s the first anybody had heard of this.
Preet Bharara: At day eight?
Sally Yates: Yes. Yeah, at day eight.
Preet Bharara: Did you curse?
Sally Yates: I don’t recall if I cursed at that particular moment, but there was definitely some after that.
Preet Bharara: Okay.
Sally Yates: And so we really spent that time, I mean this is late Friday afternoon.
Preet Bharara: Did you call someone at The White House to say what’s going on?
Sally Yates: Yeah, and I can’t really talk about it.
Preet Bharara: Okay.
Sally Yates: But yes, there was that.
Preet Bharara: So you then spend some time, given that you’re a serious lawyer and care about the constitution, analyzing it and thinking about it. How did you go about trying to come to a determination of whether or not that executive order was proper and legal and constitutional?
Sally Yates: Well, it was late Friday afternoon when we found out about it. And literally we didn’t have anything. I mean, I am reading the executive order on my iPad in the car, which is not how you normally would do these things. So we spent the weekend interacting with The White House and trying to get our arms around what they were trying to accomplish here. And who was in and who was out, again lifetime ago. This was travel ban one, we’re on travel ban three now. But one actually applied to people who had valid Visas-
Preet Bharara: And green cards.
Sally Yates: And who were lawful permanent permanent residence, exactly.
Preet Bharara: Who are on their way back to the country.
Sally Yates: So we had people who were literally mid-air as the president signs this thing and were then being turned away at the airport, who were people with valid green cards and Visas. So we were able to get through that over the weekend and sort of procedurally doing some things there to address those situations.
Preet Bharara: Can I ask, what was the tone of the conversations between you and your folks at The Justice Department and The White House? Was it cordial? Was it like, “What the hell is going on?” What was the feeling in the room?
Sally Yates: Well, at first we were mystified that, A, that this thing just sprang out of nowhere and we didn’t know anything about it. And then yeah, there was some tension there. Because we had to have lawyers in court immediately, DOJ lawyers in court to address the challenges that are coming in from people who are being turned away at the airport. And so our folks needed to know what to do.
Preet Bharara: So then you do some analysis.
Sally Yates: Yeah, over the weekend.
Preet Bharara: Over the course of days.
Sally Yates: Right.
Preet Bharara: And you determine ultimately what?
Sally Yates: Well, we are reviewing things over the weekend, so challenges are being filed. I mean, DOJ, very hierarchal organization. I mean, normally the way these things would work, is that people at levels below would do a lot of analysis and pretty memos and it would sort of make its way after a lot of review up to me, there was no time for any of that. I mean, I’m literally online as are the other people at DOJ, reading challenges as they’re filed, finding the briefs on our computers and iPads, looking up the cases ourselves. And we’re trying to wrap our arms around what the challenges are, what the defenses would be. And come Monday morning, is when we were told that the judges, and one of the challenges, had sent word that he wanted to know what the Department of Justice position was on the constitutionality of the travel ban.
Preet Bharara: And so the principal worry and a front of that broad travel ban, was what?
Sally Yates: Well it’s the establishment clause? Well, there were two, but not to get too technical on it. There was a statutory concern, but the broader concern was the establishment clause. And you know, we had a-
Preet Bharara: The establishment clauses is government shall make no religion.
Sally Yates: Exactly. Laws that would discriminate based on religion.
Preet Bharara: Because the travel ban seemed to be directed at people in the Muslim faith.
Sally Yates: Right.
Preet Bharara: Not even seem to be, but kind of clearly.
Sally Yates: It was clearly applied to Muslim majority countries. And it was made against the backdrop of the president having stated over and over again on the campaign trail of his intent to effectuate a Muslim ban and even after he was elected. Also, travel ban one actually favored Christians. So when you’re looking at that, we called everybody into the conference room because we’ve got to take a position the next day. And so I wanted to talk this through with all of the career people who would have a role and the defense of this, as well as the Trump appointees. Because it’s Trump appointees at DOJ now, with the exception of Matt, my deputy and I. And so we spent quite some time going through what the challenges were and what the defenses would be. And I can’t go into all of that, there’s still that deliberative process privilege. But put it this way, it became really clear to me that to defend this, I was going to have to send Department of Justice lawyers into court to take the position that the travel ban had absolutely nothing to do with religion.
Preet Bharara: And that was obviously ridiculous.
Sally Yates: Yeah and it was a pretext. I mean, they were coming up with other arguments that you could make for why it was done, but that was pretextual. And The Department of Justice shouldn’t be in, I don’t think any lawyer should be argument a pretext, I sure don’t think The Department of Justice lawyer should be.
Preet Bharara: So now fast forward like eight days or nine days. And I will never forget, and I know you and you’re my friend, I was on the subway and I had, I think it was a Monday, right? When you issued your memo. It was a Monday evening and I was still the US Attorney and I was on the subway going up to Grand Central, I think to go catch a train home and I saw your memo. And I will tell you that it is rare to read a legal document that’s sent sort of to a bureaucratic group and feel great pride and inspiration, and I did.
Preet Bharara: And I remember thinking, “Good for you.” How fraught was the decision to send a memo saying… And for those of you who forget, Sally essentially sent a memo around saying that The Department of Justice, and correct me if I’m, if I’m not getting completely correct, would not enforce travel ban one because you had concerns about its constitutionality. That is not a small thing to do. They’re liable to stand up again. It’s a sappy bunch these guys.
Sally Yates: It’s a hometown crowd.
Preet Bharara: But don’t just answer my question legally. Like what, did you sleep the night before?
Sally Yates: Well, the thing was is there was 72 hours from the time I learned about the travel ban in the car after leaving The White House, to when I had to make the decision. That’s not a lot of time that you’d like to have to be able to get your arms around something like this. But the harder decision here was not whether I was going to be part of this. Once I sat and listened to this and thought, “We’re going to have to go in there and argue something that’s just not true.” I knew I was not going to be part of that. The harder decision was whether I should resign or direct the department not to defend. And I understand, there’s some people who think I should have resigned, I get that.
Sally Yates: But here’s the thing is that I wasn’t like head of the civil division or some other component of the department. I was the Acting Attorney General of the United States, and I was responsible not just for my own personal integrity here, I was responsible for the integrity of the entire department. This wasn’t about some tangential issue or some arcane statutory instruction. This was about a fundamental issue of religious discrimination. So it didn’t feel to me like I would be doing my job if I just resigned.
Sally Yates: So that’s why we, in your first question that you asked me there, I am really uncomfortable with this sort of quote, “icon thing” or whatever. I did my job. That’s what you’re supposed to do. I remember my dad, you all know the old Southern expression. You’re not supposed to congratulate a man for not robbing a bank. That’s kind of how I feel about this. That’s what you’re supposed to do, is do your job. So to me, you know, as I puzzled through this, you know, we all talked in the conference room, I talked with Matt some, sort of closed the door to my office and thought about it a bit. There wasn’t long to think about it because people needed direction, but thought about it a bit, and I can tell you 72 hours, 72 days I would make the exact same decision again.
Preet Bharara: You can clap for that.
Sally Yates: Yes. So we typed it up and hit send, and then actually I sent a copy later to my husband who’s here tonight, Comer, and… Woo hoo! Yeah. He said, “So when are you thinking about sending this?” Said, “I did about an hour and a half ago.”
Preet Bharara: Look, I think it was an incredible thing you did. Did you know when you sent that memo without a doubt that you would be terminated, or were you not sure?
Sally Yates: No, I mean I’m, and I probably sound incredibly naive when I say this. I’d certainly recognized there was a good chance I’d be fired. If I was too stupid to figure that out, I shouldn’t have had that job. But there was also part of me that again, perhaps naively hoped that this would be something that would cause the Trump administration to put the brakes on.
Preet Bharara: You were wrong!
Sally Yates: I know. Yeah, that’s… Well, it was early. We hadn’t seen everything yet. But to put the brakes on and, and just sort of think about this and look, I wouldn’t have changed that last moment for anything. I mean to have done anything else would have felt like a betrayal of 27 years before that. But I’ll admit I didn’t particularly want to have the period on my service after those 27 years being fired.
Preet Bharara: That’s great thing. You just said the word betrayal. That’s interesting to me because Sean Spicer, remember that guy?
Sally Yates: Yeah.
Preet Bharara: I remember his suits didn’t really fit. He’s a terrible dancer.
Sally Yates: I can’t get that image out of the Dancing with the Stars thing and all out of my head, but [crosstalk] .
Preet Bharara: Sean Spicer. He lasted a little bit longer than you. In fairness, Sean Spicer put out a statement on day 10 or 11 referring to your conduct as a betrayal. How’d you feel about that? Did you see that comment at the time?
Sally Yates: Yeah, I saw it. It didn’t feel good, but I was absolutely comfortable that the decision that I made was the right one for the department, and I didn’t really need Sean Spicer’s approval on that, so, yeah.
Preet Bharara: That’s exactly the right orientation. Does your experience there give you some perspective or cause you to think about these other people over the subsequent three years who continue in the administration, who have seen bad things, who clearly personally think that bad decisions are being made on the same order as the travel ban, and in some cases probably worse things, that they either resign or are fired and don’t say anything, or they’re quiet about it. There are others including former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and General Mattis who are very measured in what they say. Do you have a view generally and also based on your personal experience about what these longtime public servants should or should not be saying about their understanding of the president and the White House and their policies for the betterment of the country?
Sally Yates: Look, I’m not going to make a judgment about somebody else’s decision on that. I know what I’m comfortable with and what feels right for me. Certainly, I think we all would hope that they would speak out more, but I’m not going to make a judgment about them. I think everybody has to make that decision for himself or herself.
Preet Bharara: Very diplomatic. All right, can we talk about impeachment because it’s going on.
Sally Yates: Sure.
Preet Bharara: Have you been following it?
Sally Yates: There’s impeachment going on?
Preet Bharara: It takes a lot of time.
Sally Yates: Yeah.
Preet Bharara: To watch these hearings, and you have a real, unlike me, you have a real job. Have you been following the hearings? Have you been watching?
Sally Yates: Yeah, I mean, I can’t watch all day long like you do, but that’s…
Preet Bharara: I like to sit with popcorn and drink all day. Let me a couple of questions, and you will answer or not. How do you think Adam Schiff is doing? He’s a former federal prosecutor like you and me, so I’m partial to his experience. How’s he doing?
Sally Yates: I think that he, I mean, I think he’s done a fantastic job actually. You know, one of the things that I think has been most important is that he’s approached this with the right tone of being serious and respectful of the process, but also doing it in a way that is efficient and to the point, and dignified. You know, look as troubled as we all are, or I’m assuming we all are here in this room by the president’s actions. I don’t think any of us really should be gleeful about where we are right now. It’s a really sad and disturbing place that the president has put us now. I think that he has really approached it with the right tone that is really essential to me for this to be something that is not even more divisive in our country and doesn’t allow the president to make it more divisive than it already is.
Preet Bharara: Does it bother you, and do you think it’s a problem that when Nancy Pelosi finally conducted a House wide vote that it was almost purely partisan about conducting an impeachment inquiry? Do you think that’s bad for the country, bad for the impeachment inquiry, or bad in some other way?
Sally Yates: Well, I mean, look, I know that she was reluctant to or at least, I know, I mean, I’ve read. I don’t know for any inside information here, but that she was reluctant to move forward unless she believed it would be a bipartisan process. I get that in the sense that for the public to accept this, that you would be hopeful that there would be, and actually, if you look back at Watergate, for example, and you see how different that was, and the Republican vote [crosstalk 00:48:14].
Preet Bharara: There was a huge Republican vote in favor of the impeachment inquiry.
Sally Yates: Right.
Preet Bharara: Even in Clinton’s time, there were 31 votes from Democrats. I guess on one side you could say, well that means it’s not great because it’s not as bipartisan. The other point of view is that at this moment in time people are craven enough or fearful enough about the political power of the president that they’re not doing what they think is right; they’re just going along.
Sally Yates: Yeah.
Preet Bharara: Depends on your perspective.
Sally Yates: It’s sure looking that way. You know, look, I’m still holding out some hope that maybe, you never know. Maybe if the dam breaks, and that they feel some safety in numbers, and the reason why I hope that is, you know, I know this sounds so hokey, but they’ve got a responsibility larger than just staying loyal to the president.
Preet Bharara: Do you see enough evidence based on what has come before the public that the president should be impeached?
Sally Yates: Well, look, call me old fashioned. But when it comes to the trial, I think you ought to wait until the trial in the Senate before you see what [crosstalk 00:49:19].
Preet Bharara: But before that impeachment, which is the allegation.
Sally Yates: Right.
Preet Bharara: Is there enough?
Sally Yates: That’s like a charging stage here.
Preet Bharara: Correct, is there enough?
Sally Yates: Look, I think the evidence has been overwhelming with respect to the president’s conduct.
Preet Bharara: What do you think about some of the arguments made by the president’s allies as a former prosecutor? You know, the funny thing is you talk about these things to some extent. I talk about them a lot because I don’t have a real job, and-
Sally Yates: I think you’re doing okay for yourself.
Preet Bharara: I’m doing all right. There’s some basic legal things that get talked about, including the idea that, well, the money actually ended up going to Ukraine. No harm, no foul. How many people did you prosecute for attempt or for conspiracy and, but for the grace of God, the crime wasn’t ultimately accomplished? Including, in my office, for example, multiple terrorists who tried to kill thousands of Americans failed. We still prosecuted them. What do you think about the fact that representatives of human beings in the country are putting forward arguments like, “Well, they didn’t succeed in the crime. No harm, no foul.” Like how do you think about the fact that that is deemed to be persuasive?
Sally Yates: Well, and you haven’t even mentioned the fact that the reason it was released was that the whistleblower allegations had then been revealed to the President. So that’s like you get caught and then the money is released. Yeah, it’s-
Preet Bharara: Would you have dismissed a case on those grounds?
Sally Yates: Well, yeah, we were very selective here. We only prosecuted completed crimes in the Northern District of Georgia. Yeah.
Preet Bharara: But what does it say? But some of these arguments are so absurd and I just wonder, are you and I in some kind of weird zone that we knew what crimes to prosecute because we were in that business? But that there are people of some prominence, including these House Republicans, who just brazenly make that point and they just think people are going to go along with that? What does that say about public credulity about this whole thing?
Sally Yates: My personal favorite of all of those is, well, the President said, “No quid pro quo.”
Preet Bharara: Right? Right.
Sally Yates: So that means that’s like a guy goes into a bank with a gun and says, “Give me all your money,” and then yells, “But I’m not robbing the bank on the way out.”
Preet Bharara: “It’s my money.”
Sally Yates: And so he’s not a bank robber then. I mean that’s just crazy.
Preet Bharara: Yes, it is.
Sally Yates: Yeah.
Preet Bharara: Yes, it is. So everyone is now an armchair lawyer-
Sally Yates: And apparently you are now too.
Preet Bharara: That too. All true, but I have a goddamn degree. And we have a-
Sally Yates: You really want me to curse tonight, don’t you?
Preet Bharara: … We have a full … Yeah, I do actually. I really do. And we have a full house, listening to two lawyers. But my worry is … So I have this worry, I wonder if you share it? That you and I have spent a career thinking about criminal justice and prosecution and doing the right thing according to the rules and precedent and everything else. And on the one hand people could say, “Well, there’s now a renaissance in understanding about the law and everyone’s interested because of impeachment and because of the Mueller investigation. And so they’re all getting a crash course in civics and in law.” And that’s one argument.
Preet Bharara: The other argument is, there’s something about a criminal investigation of a President that is distorting. And whether it’s an investigation of Hillary Clinton or President Trump, most garden variety cases, even big deal cases that you and I oversaw, didn’t generate the kind of interest that is necessarily generated by a potential criminal investigation of a human being who enjoys the support of 70 million Americans, Hillary or Donald Trump or anyone else. And that people’s perceptions about justice and the appearance of justice and the prosecution appropriately of cases, is being utterly distorted by the weirdness of all of this discussion having to do with a President that tens of millions of people adore and tens of millions of people want to go away. Do you worry about people’s perceptions of justice because we’re so focused on this case, which is utterly different from all the cases that you and I ever prosecuted?
Sally Yates: I worry about a lot of things right now, but I do… One of the things I am concerned about is people’s perception of justice. I hadn’t really thought about it in the context of, because people are so focused on the impeachment issue with respect to the President. What I’ve been more concerned about is the lasting impact of undermining the public’s confidence in institutions, and particularly the Department of Justice and the FBI and the intelligence community and others that, that’s going to potentially last way beyond the confines of this presidency.
Sally Yates: And that that is so corrosive and that we’re becoming kind of numb to this and people start believing that that’s actually how things work. And I know we can tell you that’s not how it works at DOJ and there are thousands and thousands of really dedicated employees there who are trying hard every day to do the right thing. But if you were to listen to our President or some of his supporters sometime, they’re perfectly willing to undermine the public’s confidence in those institutions for their own personal gain. And that’s what worries me.
Preet Bharara: I want to transition to one of the big cases that you oversaw when you were in the US Attorney’s Office, which is a big deal to folks in Atlanta. And it relates to the 1996 bombing at Olympic Village. There’s a movie coming out, Clint Eastwood movie coming out about it. And so my first question is, and I write about this a little bit in my book, because the biggest nightmare, people don’t always appreciate this, the biggest nightmare for a prosecutor I think is and should be, not that you lose a case where the person is guilty and you couldn’t get it done, but that you mistakenly pursue someone who was innocent.
Preet Bharara: And that kind of miscarriage is something that we should all worry about and lose sleep over. And this was not a prosecutorial error, but as people here know more than anyone else around the country, in the aftermath of that bombing, there were press reports and suggestions and allegations that someone was responsible for the bombing, a man by the name Richard Jewell, and that was not correct. My first question, and I have other questions for you, how does something like that happen and how do you avoid that?
Sally Yates: Well, how do you avoid identifying the wrong person or the information getting out? I mean those are two-
Preet Bharara: Yeah. It’s an interesting thing, right? Because the press and law enforcement are different. They’re parallel missions. There’s a little bit less responsibility, no offense to the press, for members of the media because they don’t have to prove their case in court. Prosecutors, I think, are a little bit more hesitant to make an allegation because they know they have to be put to their proof at some point in the future. But just, I guess, specifically with respect to that case and then more broadly, how do you think about making sure you get it right?
Sally Yates: Well, I think that’s one of the things that I tried to instill in AUSAs in our office and certainly tried to keep in mind myself every day, was the impact that you have on someone’s life merely by initiating an investigation. And I’m not just talking about when it’s the bombing of Centennial Park, but any investigation. And the ripple effect that can have on them, regardless of whether they are ever charged. It’s a really remarkable power that you have as a federal prosecutor and you have to keep in mind that it’s not your individual power, it’s the power of the people, and to try to use it responsibly.
Sally Yates: I got involved in the case after Richard Jewell, so I’m not all that familiar about exactly how those decisions were made, in as it related to that. But it’s not a necessarily unusual thing for someone to be a suspect and to then be cleared. I think what happened in this case is it obviously happened on a world stage, with really profound and very unfortunate impact to him.
Preet Bharara: So then a few years go by and a person is identified, who was actually believed to be responsible for the bombing, Eric Rudolph. You were involved in that case. What was that like?
Sally Yates: Well, it was a very long-term case because we identified Rudolph actually after the Birmingham bombing. Rudolph had been responsible for three in Atlanta, the Centennial Park bombing and then a bombing at a women’s clinic and a bar here in town. And then it was after the bombing at a women’s clinic in Birmingham that he was identified. And unfortunately, after he’s identified, he hears through a leak on the radio that he’s wanted and then disappears into the mountains of North Carolina, not to be seen for years after that.
Preet Bharara: That’s reporting that is problematic-
Sally Yates: Yes, it is.
Preet Bharara: … and that happens from time to time. So what’s interesting to me is, but then eventually the law catches up with him and he had information, obviously because he was the perpetrator, given that one of the ways in which he perpetrated his crimes was with the explosive device of dynamite. And my understanding is that at some point he’s under arrest and he’s potentially facing the death penalty, and lawyers will do a lot of things to avoid their client’s being put to death, and one of the things, and correct me if I’m wrong, that happened in the case was the lawyer suggests to your office, and maybe directly to you, that, “Well, you know what? Among other things, my client planted dynamite in a place, and the place is a highly frequented national park, and I believe he offered to identify where that dynamite was to abate a public tragedy in exchange for death penalty being taken off the table.” Is that correct?
Sally Yates: Yeah.
Preet Bharara: How do you think about analyzing the justice of that scenario?
Sally Yates: That was one of the most difficult decisions I was involved in at DOJ. We had always been worried Rudolph used gunpowder in the Centennial Park bombing, but all the rest of them were dynamite, and the FBI had identified where they believed the dynamite came from. There had been a big theft at another place in North Carolina, but we never found the rest of the dynamite. We knew there was a huge stash that was somewhere. We never found what we called his factory where he made his bombs.
Preet Bharara: And your concern was, that’s live dynamite, and if someone happens upon it, that’s a tragedy, right?
Sally Yates: Right, and the lab guys at the bureau had told us what was particularly concerning is that dynamite becomes very volatile over time if it’s not turned on a regular basis. When I got the call from his defense lawyer on telling me that, “I bet you guys are still wondering where they dynamite is.”
Sally Yates: I told him, “Yeah, we were,” and he started into his story about how Rudolph could tell us where it is, but he wants you to take death off the table in both Atlanta and in Birmingham, and obviously there are a lot of factors going into this. First, it sort of felt like negotiating with a terrorist and that you shouldn’t allow him to benefit from that, and look we can talk about there… really mixed feelings about the death penalty and whether we should have one or not, but we were very concerned that this is allowing him to use that to escape the death penalty.
Sally Yates: On the other hand, and particularly when we talked to the experts at the bureau lab, we were concerned about this: that what his lawyer had told us is that it’s buried in this national park that is frequented by Boy Scouts, and families coming in and camping, and otherwise. What they told us was is that it wouldn’t take much to detonate this dynamite. That you could literally just be hammering in a tent stake into the ground, and if it’s at the wrong place that could detonate the dynamite.
Preet Bharara: So that’s horrifying to contemplate that you know that there’s a clear and present danger, the location of which you do not know. So what did you do?
Sally Yates: This was not a decision I made individually. There were people at Main Justice I would still, and the Atlanta US Attorney’s Office at the time, we ultimately made the decision that we were going to talk with Rudolph through his attorney, that the agents were really concerned that this was all a setup because Rudolph hated federal law enforcement more than anything else, and he had booby trapped, he had what they call sucker bombs, that he had used to pull law enforcement in to the other [crosstalk 01:03:44]-
Preet Bharara: So the concern was this was a booby trap for law enforcement to kill members of law enforcement.
Sally Yates: Exactly. When they go out there just like, going back I’m really dating myself now, the Unabomber had booby trapped his cabin there for that, and so they were very concerned that they were being set up here on this as well. What we ultimately decided to do was that if he could identify where the dynamite was, if we’re able to find it and it’s there, he would plead guilty to all of the bombings. He would serve a life sentence with no chance of parole, and we would take the death penalty notice off the table in both districts.
Preet Bharara: So then you offer that, he gives you the general location of the dynamite, but it’s not a street corner.
Sally Yates: No.
Preet Bharara: There’s no street address. It’s like loose directions about where it might be. And so you found the dynamite?
Sally Yates: Yeah, there’s no GPS coordinates to this. He’s got-
Preet Bharara: It’s like, “You go up a hill, make a left.”
Sally Yates: Exactly, it is. He’s there with a topographical map in the prison with his lawyer. He didn’t want to talk directly to the FBI because he didn’t trust them. So his lawyer’s talking to me, and it’s like, “You go up a hill, and there’s a sycamore tree there, and then you take a left, and you go down to this big rock,” and no so-
Preet Bharara: To get to the dynamite?
Sally Yates: To get to the dynamite, which is there, and they did. They followed the directions. They did a terrific job [crosstalk 01:05:17]-
Preet Bharara: Did you go with them?
Sally Yates: No, I was on the phone with Paul [crosstalk 01:05:19]-
Preet Bharara: Right, in your office?
Sally Yates: Yeah, in my office safely away from the dynamite, but other prosecutors were there. I was the senior person. I wasn’t going. They found it, and it was too volatile to move. They had to detonate it in place.
Preet Bharara: In the spot?
Sally Yates: In the spot.
Preet Bharara: They blew it up?
Sally Yates: They blew it up there. It made an enormous crater. I mean, many times the size of this stage. An enormous-
Preet Bharara: And you remained in your office for this?
Sally Yates: … crater. Yeah. Now, I know I shouldn’t have missed that.
Preet Bharara: It might have been interesting.
Sally Yates: But the quandary here was… and look, other people might have made a different decision on this, but our sense was was that we could not put the lives of innocent people at risk when we had an opportunity to do something to try to ensure their safety.
Preet Bharara: Look, I think it’s the right decision. It’s so easy to second guess prosecutorial decisions because you’re considering accountability, on the one hand, which might have been compromised against public safety, and he kind of had you here. You don’t regret it, right?
Sally Yates: No. I mean, I think Rudolph is where he should be. He’s serving the rest of his life in ADMAX in Colorado, but we also know that there aren’t going to be people who are out camping in that forest who unnecessarily are hurt or killed.
Preet Bharara: We only have a few minutes left. Can I ask you about criminal justice reform? There’s this conversation in America today about this progressive prosecutor movement. I don’t know exactly what that means. I like to think you and I were in many ways progressive prosecutors. If you were not the attorney general but this sort of criminal justice czar of America …
Sally Yates: That is the attorney general, by the way.
Preet Bharara: Not really. They don’t get to affect what state prosecutors.
Sally Yates: I know.
Preet Bharara: Are there one or two things that you think need to be done immediately to affect greater justice in America?
Sally Yates: Only one or two, or?
Preet Bharara: You’ve got to pick one or two because we’re running out of time.
Sally Yates: I guess one thing that I feel really strongly about, first of all we need to ensure proportional sentencing. I’ll go with two here. Proportional sentencing, we know that there are lower level, non-violent drug offenders who are serving more time in prison than is necessary for public safety. Not only is that diverting unnecessary resources to prison time, but it’s undermining public confidence in the fairness of our system and rightly so.
Sally Yates: The second thing I would say is that we need to be doing a much better job of while people are in prison of ensuring that they have the tools they need to be successful when they get out. That includes quality education programs in prison, and job training, and drug treatment, other things. We take people out of their homes, we put them in prison, we don’t give them any skills or ability to be successful when they come out, and we somehow expect that things are going to be different when they’re released. That’s also crazy. It also makes us less safe as a country, and it’s not really living up to the responsibility that we have.
Preet Bharara: Maybe this will sound like an odd question. I’m really proud of my public service. I’m proud of your public service as a prosecutor. There are a lot of folks in the country on the left who don’t like prosecutors, who thinks prosecutors are bad. Kamala Harris just withdrew from the presidential campaign, not for this reason, but a lot of people said, “Well, her work was not a public service,” and I have been heckled from time to time literally just on the fact that I was a prosecutor. What that entails is on occasion, a lot, that people are held accountable for crimes and they go to prison. What do you think about that criticism of prosecutors as a whole?
Sally Yates: I think it all depends on how the prosecutor approaches his or her job. If they approach it recognizing their responsibility to seek justice, and to stand up for victims, and to make our communities safe, and to do it in a fair and proportional way, that’s how you’re supposed to be doing your job. That absolutely is a public service. If you are one of those, I like to believe, rare prosecutors who doesn’t look at it that way and who looks it more of just sending as many people to prison for as long as you can, no that’s not going to be something that disrespected. But again, the vast majority of folks I knew in the federal system are in the former category, not the latter.
Preet Bharara: Me too. Here’s a question from the audience. This is from Hope H. And the question to me is, do you think Sally Yates should run for Senate? I can’t believe you brought your entire family to this theater. You have a huge family, Sally. Please convince her with your awesome debate skills. So, you don’t like politics much, do you? And is that correct? I don’t. I get asked this question, not in Atlanta, I get asked this question in New York from time to time, and I don’t. Before you answer this question, how do you feel about politics and the way the politics works generally?
Sally Yates: Well, I mean, that’s such a broad question.
Preet Bharara: I know.
Sally Yates: I don’t think it’s true that I would say-
Preet Bharara: I can narrow it.
Sally Yates: … I don’t like politics much. I mean, I…
Preet Bharara: Do you love politics.
Sally Yates: It’s not like one end of the spectrum or the other. I mean, I know a whole lot of…
Preet Bharara: I can ask it differently, so why won’t you run?
Sally Yates: So, running for Senate or, that is just not something that’s ever really felt like me. And I really am incredibly flattered by your support, and that means a lot. We’ve got some great people who are running.
Preet Bharara: Yeah, but they’re not you.
Sally Yates: Well, but they’re terrific folks. But I just, I don’t think that’s the thing for me.
Preet Bharara: All right. We’ve gone way long. I could talk to Sally Yates for 100 hours. Thank you for your patience. Let me end by… hold on. Let me end by saying, we’re friends and I’ve known you for a long time. I am deeply in awe of you. I think that what you stand for is something very important in America generally, but especially at this time. And in particular, the way you took a position over which you lost your job is an important lesson to a lot of people. And my worry about the country now is there are a lot of people who care more about their job than about what’s right, whether it’s in government or elsewhere. And if we could have more people like you who decided no job is worth the loss of integrity, we’d be a better country. So I applaud you. I applaud your surface. Thank you for your friendship. And thank you all for coming tonight. They’re standing again.
Sally Yates: It’s for you.
Preet Bharara: And so comes to an end the Stay Tuned Live Tour of 2019. We went to Denver, Detroit, to Minneapolis and ended in Atlanta with my friend Sally Yates. I have a lot of observations about traveling around the country and doing these shows. I mean, thousands of people came out and it never ceases to amaze me that so many people come out and are thoughtful and engaged and they’re buying tickets not to see a play or theater or a music program or dancing, they’re coming out to hear people talk about the issues of the day and what’s happened to the country. And we have a lot of fun, I tell some jokes, but we also engage in serious, thoughtful conversation. And to fill a theater in a city far away from New York City with people who come out on an evening when they have other things to do, to listen to that and to learn from that tells you a lot about your fellow citizens. It’s a great honor and a great privilege to have audiences like that. And it’s very humbling. We’ll see you in 2020.
Preet Bharara: If you like what we do, rate and review the show on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen. Every positive review helps new listeners find the show. Send me your questions about news, politics and justice. Tweet them to me, @PreetBharara, with the hashtag, ask Preet, or you can call and leave me a message at (669) 247-7338. That’s (669) 24PREET. Or you can send an email to [email protected] Stay Tuned is presented by CAFE. The executive producer is Tamara Sepper. The senior audio producer is David Tatasciore. And the CAFE team is Julia Doyle, Calvin Lord, David Kurlander and Geoff Isenman. Our music is by Andrew Dost. I’m Preet Bharara. Stay tuned.