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Ted Cruz gets into a heated exchange with Sally Yates, prompting laughter and groans

Sally Yates and Ted Cruz spar during a Senate panel hearing.
Sally Yates and Ted Cruz spar during a Senate panel hearing.

Senator Ted Cruz, an artful debater, had some pointed questions for former acting attorney general Sally Yates at today’s hearing. She was prepared.

The exchange came during Monday’s Senate Judicial Committee hearing on Russian interference in the 2016 election. Rather than questioning Yates on the issue at hand, Cruz diverted the discussion to President Donald J. Trump’s travel ban, which Yates refused to support as acting attorney general — a move that led to her firing.

Cruz started by asking Yates if an attorney general has the authority to direct the Department of Justice to defy a president’s order. Yates then responded, “I don’t know. . . but I don’t think it would be a good idea, and that’s not what I did in this case.”


Cruz started reading Yates a statute that grants the US president authority to suspend immigration into the country. Yates then responded to Cruz by quoting from the Immigration and Nationality Act, which states, “no person shall receive any preference or priority or be discriminated against in the issuance of an immigrant visa because of the person’s race, sex, nationality, place of birth, or place of residence.”

Yates then said that her main concern was whether or not Trump’s travel ban order violated the constitution.

“In this particular instance, particularly where we were talking about a fundamental issue of religious freedom — not the interpretation of some arcane statute, but religious freedom — it was appropriate for us to look at the intent behind the president’s actions, and his intents were laid out in his statements,” she said.

Cruz then interrupted Yates, asking if she was aware of any other instance in which an attorney general has directed the Department of Justice to defy a policy.


“I’m not, but I’m also not aware of a situation where the Office of Legal Counsel was advised to not tell the attorney general about anything until after it was over,” Yates replied.

As Cruz thanked Yates for her testimony, laughter could be heard in the background.

“I would note, that might be the case if there was reason to suspect partisanship,” Cruz said, leading someone in the background to audibly groan.

The exchange led many who were watching the testimony to react on social media: