In an extraordinary public showdown, President Donald Trump fired the acting attorney general of the United States after she publicly questioned the constitutionality of his refugee and immigration ban and refused to defend it in court.
- Acting Attorney General Sally Yates fired over executive order
- Had directed attorneys not to defend order in court
- White House called her refusal a betrayal
The clash Monday night between Trump and Sally Yates, a career prosecutor and Democratic appointee, laid bare the growing discord and dissent surrounding an executive order that halted the entire U.S. refugee program and banned all entries from seven Muslim-majority nations for 90 days. The firing, in a written statement released just hours after Yates went public with her concerns, also served as a warning to other administration officials that Trump is prepared to terminate those who refuse to carry out his orders.
Yates' refusal to defend the executive order was largely symbolic given that Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump's pick for attorney general, will almost certainly defend the policy once he's sworn in. He's expected to be confirmed Tuesday by the Senate Judiciary Committee and could be approved within days by the full Senate.The White House has appointed U.S. Attorney Dana Boente to serve as acting attorney general.
Yates, a holdover from the Obama administration, directed Justice Dept. attorneys not to defend the order in court.
In a letter, Yates said her job was to make sure the Justice Dept.'s position was "not only legally defensible, but is informed by our best view of what the law is after consideration of all the fact."
In addition, I am responsible for ensuring that the positions we take in court remain consistent with this institution's solemn obligation to always seek justice and stand for what is right," she wrote.
In the statement from the White House, Yates was criticized as "weak on borders and very weak on illegal immigration." Read the full statement below ▼
Trump's executive order bars citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States for the next 90 days. It suspends the refugee program for 120 days.
Over the weekend the order also affected green card holders and those travelers with dual citizenship.
There are cases in at least five states challenging Trump's order, which is currently being blocked by some federal judges.
Sessions, a Republican senator from Alabama, is awaiting a vote from the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday that would either advance or block his nomination from moving to the full U.S. Senate for a confirmation vote.
President Trump reacted to the move with a tweet on his personal account Monday night:
The Democrats are delaying my cabinet picks for purely political reasons. They have nothing going but to obstruct. Now have an Obama A.G.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 31, 2017
Here is the full statement from the White House:
The acting Attorney General, Sally Yates, has betrayed the Department of Justice by refusing to enforce a legal order designed to protect the citizens of the United States. This order was approved as to form and legality by the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel.
Ms. Yates is an Obama Administration appointee who is weak on borders and very weak on illegal immigration.
It is time to get serious about protecting our country. Calling for tougher vetting for individuals travelling from seven dangerous places is not extreme. It is reasonable and necessary to protect our country.
Tonight, President Trump relieved Ms. Yates of her duties and subsequently named Dana Boente, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, to serve as Acting Attorney General until Senator Jeff Sessions is finally confirmed by the Senate, where he is being wrongly held up by Democrat senators for strictly political reasons.
“I am honored to serve President Trump in this role until Senator Sessions is confirmed. I will defend and enforce the laws of our country to ensure that our people and our nation are protected,” said Dana Boente, Acting Attorney General.
Information from CNN and Associated Press contributed to this report.