By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
Government law enforcement officials have a pretty high profile right now. That's especially true as they're increasingly moving into the category of being former law enforcement officials after being removed by President Trump. There was U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in New York, and more recently, of course FBI Director James Comey who became former FBI Director this past Tuesday. And the day before that, the one in the spotlight was former Acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates. She served in that role for only 10 days before being removed by President Trump after refusing to enforce the President's controversial travel ban. On Monday she testified before the U.S. Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. And, from many sources at least, her testimony has earned high praise. The events have played out like an episode of The West Wing: Already seen as a hero after taking a principled stand on the President's attempt to partially fulfill a campaign promise to bar Muslims from entering the country, she held her own against the attempts of many GOP Senators to paint her as a partisan, and came off as polite, prepared, and fundamentally tough.
In other words, she came across exactly the way you would want an expert witness to come across. Experts need to be focused on their own role, methods, and conclusions, while also being savvy enough to recognize an attack when they hear one and confident enough to turn some of these attacks back against the other side. I have written before on the advantage of treating cross-examination as a "polite struggle" and in employing the "counterpunch" wherever you can. In my view, Yates' performance during subcommittee testimony provides a good and timely example of some of the ways that experts can do that. In this post, I will share and discuss some of those examples from her testimony transcript.