President Donald Trump on Monday evening fired acting Attorney General Sally Yates hours after publicly refusing to legally defend the president’s ban on immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries.
Yates published her decision in a letter to Justice Department lawyers earlier on Monday, casting doubt on whether the executive order was “lawful” or “wise.”
“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,” Yates 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.”
Yates added that for as long as she held the position of acting attorney general, the DOJ would not defend the executive order in court. Hours later, she was fired and replaced by Dana Boente, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, who quickly rescinded Yates’ instructions and told the Justice Department to defend the executive order.
The White House announced Yates’ departure with a statement echoing Trump’s unmistakable cadence, accusing Yates of being “weak on borders and very weak on illegal immigration,” and saying that she “betrayed the Department of Justice.” Yates had worked for the DOJ for 27 years, under Republican and Democrat administrations.
Footage from Yates’ 2015 confirmation hearing has since gone viral online, showing that her willingness to defy presidential orders was seen as a strength during the Obama administration. “Do you think the attorney general has a responsibility to say no to the president if he asks for something that’s improper?” she was asked.
Yates replied, “I believe the attorney general or the deputy attorney general has an obligation to follow the law and the Constitution and to give their independent legal advice to the president.”
The question was asked by none other than Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s current nominee for the position of attorney general.