Trump fires acting AG for refusing to defend travel ban
President Trump fired acting Attorney General Sally Yates on Monday just hours after she defied him by refusing to have the Justice Department defend his controversial executive order blocking people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.
The White House acted swiftly, issuing a statement declaring that Yates, who was appointed by former President Obama, had “betrayed” the U.S. government.
Trump selected Dana Boente, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, to replace Yates until his attorney general nominee, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), is confirmed by the Senate. That vote could occur this week.
“Ms. Yates is an Obama administration appointee who is weak on borders and very weak on illegal immigration,” the White House said in a statement. “It is time to get serious about protecting our country.”
The decision to ax Yates capped off a turbulent day in which the Trump administration was forced to confront mounting opposition to its order, which bars all refugees for four months and bans citizens of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Libya, Sudan and Yemen from entering the U.S. for at least 90 days.
Obama broke his silence just 10 days after leaving office, backing nationwide protests against the order. Congressional Democrats staged a demonstration on the steps of the Supreme Court to denounce it, and more than two dozen Republicans have refused to endorse the new policy.
Throughout Monday, the White House defended the order, castigating media coverage as overheated and criticizing Democrats. Trump accused Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) of shedding “fake tears” after the Democrat choked up while criticizing the order on Sunday.
The White House has saved its sharpest rebukes for career officials within the administration who have been critical of the order.
“I think that they should either get with the program or they can go,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said when asked about State Department employees drafting an internal cable registering their disapproval of the order.
Yates, a veteran of the department who was appointed by Obama, sent a letter Monday to Justice Department officials laying out her decision not to defend it.
“My responsibility is to ensure that the position of the Department of Justice is not only legally defensible, but is informed by our best view of what the law is after consideration of all the facts,” she wrote.
“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.”
About an hour after the news of Yates’s decision broke, Trump tweeted that Democrats were obstructing him and referred to an “Obama A.G.”
Shortly after, the White House sent a statement announcing Boente’s elevation. He was sworn in at 9 p.m. Monday, according to a White House spokesman.
Boente is a 31-year veteran of the Justice Department. He was appointed by Obama as U.S. attorney in 2015.
Asked if he would defend the order in court, Boente told The Washington Post, “Yes, I will.”
“Our career department employees were defending the order in court, and that’s what I expect they will do tomorrow, appropriately and properly.”