At 9:16 pm, President Donald Trump fired Acting Attorney General Sally Yates after she ordered Justice Department lawyers not to uphold President Trump's executive order on immigration and refugees. According to CNN, Yates issued a statement that explains her decision.
"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 in a letter
to DOJ employees. "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. Consequently, for as long as I'm acting attorney general, the department of justice will not present arguments in defense of the executive order unless and until I become convinced that it is appropriate to do so."
Lawsuits have been filed in five states, Virginia, New York, Massachusetts, Washington, and California, against the order. American diplomats are believed to be drafting a "dissent" letter to President Trump expressing their concerns over the executive action. White House spokesman Sean Spicer reacted to the latter news, saying that they should support the president or leave.
Trump has criticized Senate Democrats of opposing his pick for attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), on purely “political” grounds. Yates would have remained in office only until Sessions is confirmed by the Senate. The possibility that Yates could have been fired for defying the president has not been openly discussed by the White House. It is likely that Sessions will be confirmed this week.
Yates was deputy attorney general under Attorney General Loretta Lynch and was appointed by Obama. She was asked to stay on as the only Senate-confirmed Justice Department employee. "Sally Yates is a person of integrity and she looked at the law regardless of her view," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (R-NY) told CNN. "I don't think there's much doubt that what they have done is unconstitutional." Schumer tearfully appealed to Trump yesterday to relent in the implementation of the executive order in order to allow refugees into the country.
The executive order of January 27 suspended the admission of nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen, while also suspending all refugees for 90 days. The Trump administration said that on the first day of implementation, only 109 people were detained as a result of the executive order amid the 325,000 persons who were admitted to the US.
Senator Sessions has yet to be confirmed by the Senate, prompting some criticisms of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) who schedules votes on the matter. The Democrats held a lengthy "talkathon" -- a series of lengthy speeches on the Senate floor condemning Trump's executive action and extolling the benefits of immigration. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who joined protesters at Boston's Logan International Airport over the weekend, described several stories of immigrants who felt disappointed by the executive action and its enforcement.
Trump always had the authority to dismiss Yates. However, because she is the top official at DOJ who has been confirmed by the Senate, she was the only official who is authorized to sign foreign surveillance warrants. The warrants are essential to operating DOJ. In an interview with Greta Van Susteren of MSNBC, senior Trump adviser Stephen Miller said, "That is a further demonstration about how politicized our legal system has become...It’s sad that our politics have become so politicized that you have people refusing to enforce our laws.”
Trump named Dana Boente, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, to serve as Acting Attorney General.
In a statement, Boente said he will defend Trump's orders. "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," he said.
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