Shakeup

Trump fires acting attorney general who defied him on controversial travel ban

Sally Yates speaks during a press conference to announce environmental and consumer relief in the Volkswagen litigation at the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., June 28, 2016. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

In a turn of events that has been drawing comparisons to President Richard Nixon’s infamous “Saturday night massacre,” President Donald Trump on Monday night fired acting Attorney General Sally Yates after she directed lawyers at the Justice Department to not defend Trump’s controversial executive order travel ban that went into effect on Friday. “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 wrote in a letter to employees at the Justice Department.

Yates had been appointed by former President Barack Obama in 2015 and was sworn in as deputy attorney general in May of that year. Her 27-year career at the Justice Department, which spanned Democrats and Republicans, came to an abrupt end just hours after her letter to federal attorneys was released. In a statement announcing Yates’ dismissal, the Trump administration said she “betrayed the Department of Justice by refusing to enforce a legal order designed to protect the citizens of the United States.”

The Trump administration swiftly replaced Yates by swearing in Dana Boente, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, as acting attorney general. Boente said he plans to enforce the Trump order. Yates had been serving on an interim basis following the end of the Obama administration and the expected confirmation of Jeff Sessions, Trump’s nominee to lead the Justice Department. Senators are voting Tuesday on whether to confirm Sessions as the nation’s top law enforcer. Interestingly, video surfaced on social media from Yates’ 2015 Senate confirmation hearing in which, of all people, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, grilled Yates, asking her, “Do you think the attorney general has the responsibility to say ‘no’ to the president if he asks for something that’s improper?” Watch Yates’ reply to Sessions, where she talks about the responsibility to follow the law and the Constitution, in the video below.

According to The New York Times, Yates entertained the possibility of resigning but decided against doing so because she thought it might leave her successor, though temporary, in the same bind. Yates had put together an illustrious career in nearly three decades as a prosecutor, notably winning the case against domestic terrorist Eric Robert Rudolph, known as the Olympic Park Bomber, that resulted in Rudolph being sentenced to life in prison for planting explosives at the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta. On Twitter, Yates was praised for being a hero.

Read the full story at The New York Times.

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