In his pre-presidential life, Trump was famous for saying, “You’re fired!” to people on his TV reality show. But Trump’s firing of acting AG Sally Yates was no reality show. In real life, an AG advises a president on the law, but if that AG refuses to enforce an order that has been “approved as to form and legality by the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel,” then a likely consequence would be that the AG could be fired.

The NY Times reports Yates’ motivation this way:

Ms. Yates, like other senior government officials, was caught by surprise by the executive order and agonized over the weekend about how to respond, two Justice Department officials involved in the weekend deliberations said. Ms. Yates considered resigning but she told colleagues she did not want to leave it to her successor to face the same dilemma.

But I would imagine that Ms. Yates understood that her successor would almost certainly face the same dilemma, whether Yates resigned or was fired. And although I grant that Yates and other government officials may indeed have been surprised by the speed of Trump’s executive order, if they were surprised by the content of the order then they hadn’t been paying much attention to Trump’s campaign.

I am often in awe of the delicate nuances of the writing in the NY Times, designed to subtly sway the reader without the reader necessarily noticing the mechanisms by which that happens. Consider, for example, the very first paragraph of the Times’ Yates-firing story:

President Trump fired his acting attorney general on Monday night, removing her as the nation’s top law enforcement officer after she defiantly refused to defend his executive order closing the nation’s borders to refugees and people from predominantly Muslim countries.

Sounds rather straightforward if you’re just reading it and taking it in passively. But let’s take it phrase by phrase. It’s only a single sentence and not an especially long one at that, but there’s a lot packed into it.

his acting attorney general”—This is certainly technically true, if “his” means “acting under him.” But Yates is an Obama appointee, acting as AG only until a successor (most likely Jeff Sessions) is confirmed, which should be occurring very shortly. In other words, Obama-appointee Yates only became acting AG on January 20, 2017, when Trump was inaugurated. She is being fired 10 days later, shortly before her more permanent successor is appointed, the one who will actually be “his”—i.e. Trump’s—AG.

“she defiantly refused”—This is certainly true as well. The Times likes the phrase so much that they use it in the article’s headline, as well: “Trump Fires Acting Attorney General Who Defied Him.” “Defiance” can be interpreted two ways. It can be considered insubordination by those who disagree with the defiance, but the liberal/left is very likely to consider Yates’ defiance not only laudable but the proper position they all should take, a guide to future defiant actions in the name of righteousness (or self-righteousness).

“his executive order closing the nation’s borders to refugees and people from predominantly Muslim countries”—But any “closing” of the borders is temporary, a fact the article’s authors choose not to emphasize. Even more importantly, Trump’s immigration EO’s temporary “closing” does not apply to a great many “refugees and people from predominantly Muslim countries.” In fact, it does not apply to the world’s countries with the largest number of Muslims—Indonesia, Pakistan, India, and Turkey—as well as many other countries with very large Muslim populations.

Yes, the countries targeted by the Trump EO are indeed “predominantly Muslim.” But their predominantly Muslim nature is not the reason they were chosen since far larger numbers of Muslims are being allowed in as long as they are from countries not presently designated as being at high risk for terror. The countries involved in the EO were chosen (originally by the Obama administration, although the Times leaves that fact out) because terrorism is very active in them, and because the current vetting system for people from those countries is being evaluated and fine-tuned.

The news cycle moves on. In a month, in a year, most people will probably need their memory refreshed in order to remember who Sally Yates was and what she did. But the Times will continue to decide what to put in and what to leave out, leading its readers in the manner it thinks is best for them.

[Neo-neocon is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at neo-neocon.]


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