President Donald Trump has fired Acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates after she expressed doubts over his executive action on immigration and instructed the Justice Department to stop defending it in court.
Yates had argued against Trump’s action in a letter released on Monday, stating that she was “not convinced” that the executive order is lawful. “For as long as I am the Acting Attorney General, the Department of Justice will not present arguments in defense of the Executive Order,” the letter said.
Within hours, Trump fired Yates and appointed Dana Boente, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, to temporarily take over as the country’s top law enforcement official. He was sworn in at around 9 p.m. ET and Yates was notified of her dismissal minutes later.
“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,” the White House said in a statement. “Ms. Yates is an Obama Administration appointee who is weak on borders and very weak on illegal immigration.”
The White House argued that the president’s executive order had been approved by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. But Yates, in her letter sent earlier in the day, noted that the Office of Legal Counsel conducts only a limited review.
“Its review does not take account of statements by an administration or its surrogates close in time to the issuance of an Executive Order that may bear on the order’s purpose,” Yates said. “And importantly, it does not address whether any policy choice embodied in an Executive Order is wise or just.”
Prior to Yates’ letter, several federal judges ruled against parts of the executive order, noting in temporary restraining orders that the petitioners have a “strong likelihood of success” in establishing that certain parts of the executive order are in violation of the U.S. Constitution.
Shortly after Boente was sworn in as acting attorney general, he issued a note to the Justice Department to instruct them to defend Trump’s order. “I hereby rescind former Acting Attorney General Sally Q. Yates’ guidance and direct the men and women of the Department of Justice to do our sworn duty and to defend the lawful orders of our President,” the note said.
Also on Monday night, Trump replaced Acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Daniel Ragsdale, though a reason for the sudden change was not made public. The Department of Homeland Security said Thomas Homan has taken over as acting director and Ragsdale will return to his prior role as deputy director.
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