Sally Yates gave her sharpest criticism yet against Trump: 'Is all of this a momentary detour? Or has our country lost its way?'

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Sally YatesNicholas Hunt/Getty ImagesSally Yates.

  • Former deputy attorney general Sally Yates criticized the Trump administration and urged people to vote during the midterm elections.
  • "Regardless of one's prior involvement in the political world, one thing is very clear now," Yates said at a Democratic National Committee event in Los Angeles on Tuesday. "This is not a time for any of us to sit on the sidelines. There is just too much at stake."
  • Yates called the Trump White House callous and discriminatory, and sided with critics who claim President Donald Trump is capitalizing on nationalist sentiment and habitually peddling falsehoods.
  • The former official has typically avoided the political spotlight after she was fired for refusing to enforce the first version of Trump's controversial travel ban in January 2017.

Former deputy attorney general Sally Yates in a speech delivered her sharpest criticism of the Trump administration yet, and urged people to vote in the midterm elections.

"Regardless of one's prior involvement in the political world, one thing is very clear now," Yates said at a Democratic National Committee event in Los Angeles on Tuesday night. "This is not a time for any of us to sit on the sidelines. There is just too much at stake."

"I'm not referring to any particular policies, or issues. I'm not talking about healthcare or taxes, or even immigration policy," Yates added. "Those are important, but I think that there's something much more fundamental on the line. Because I think our country is at a crossroads."

Yates repeatedly urged voters to head to the polls for the November midterm election and beyond, a message that was echoed by Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez in the event.

"Right now, we have the fight of our lives ahead of us," Yates said. "Because right now, the fight that we're facing is really about nothing less than the soul of our country."

"We have to decide if we're going to be a country that is governed by rule of law - or are we going to allow the cornerstone of our democracy to literally crumble under the weight of a president who uses the Department of Justice as a sword to go after his enemies, or a shield to protect himself and his friends."

Sally YatesCarolyn Kaster/APFormer acting Attorney General Sally Yates, right, and former National Intelligence Director James Clapper, arrive to testify on Capitol Hill in Washington before the Senate Judiciary subcommittee, May 8, 2017.

Yates referenced the Trump administration's controversial zero-tolerance immigration policy - which she called callous and discriminatory - and sided with critics who claim Trump is capitalizing on nationalist sentiment and peddling falsehoods.

"Are we going to weaponize the differences and use them to stoke fear and division, or are we going to be a country grounded in just basic human decency and compassion," Yates asked. "Or are we going to rip children from parents and put them in cages?"

Yates continued: "Are we going to be a country that vigorously debates the issues, but debates that are grounded in common facts in truth? Or are we going to apathetically slip into the world where our leaders just flat make it all up every day - with no accountability to the point where there are no common facts and there is no such thing as objective truth anymore?"

Yates, who served as deputy attorney general during the Obama administration and most recently as the acting attorney general, has avoided the political spotlight after she was fired for refusing to enforce the first version of President Donald Trump's travel ban in January 2017.

"At present, I am not convinced that the defense of the executive order is consistent with these responsibilities nor am I convinced that the executive order is lawful," Yates said in a letter in 2017, prior to her dismissal.

donald trump jeff sessionsReuters/Kevin LamarquePresident Donald Trump speaks with Attorney General Jeff Sessions at the National Peace Officers Memorial Service on the West Lawn of the US Capitol in Washington, May 15, 2017.

Democrats have rallied around Yates.

As a Democrat from Georgia, she was once viewed as a potential candidate to represent the 6th Congressional District, a seat that was held by former Republican Rep. Tom Price, the secretary of Health and Human Services who resigned in September 2017.

Despite the backing from fellow Democrats, Yates has not shown any indication she may run for public office. She is currently a partner at the King and Spalding law firm.

In her closing remarks Tuesday night, Yates recounted an improvised speech from President Barack Obama during a Justice Department ceremony for new US attorneys - a speech she claimed stood "in stark contrast" to the Trump administration.

"He looked at us and he said, 'I appointed you, but you don't represent me. You represent the people of the United States," Yates recounted. "'As long are you remember that, and act on that, I'm going to be proud of everything you do.'"

"Can you imagine that happening today?" Yates said.

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