President Donald Trump “relieved” acting Attorney General Sally Yates of her duties on Monday after she order the Justice Department not to defend his controversial temporary refugee ban.
The White House released a strongly worded statement announcing that Yates would be replaced by Dana Boente, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, as acting attorney general:
The acting Attorney General, Sally Yates, has betrayed the Department of Justice by refusing to enforce a legal order designed to protect citizens of the United States. This order was approved as to form and legality by the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel.
Ms. Yates is an Obama Administration appointee who is weak on borders and very weak on illegal immigration.
It is time to get serious about protecting our country. Calling for tough vetting for individuals traveling from seven dangerous places is not extreme. It is reasonable and necessary to protect our country.
Boente will head the Justice Department until Congress makes a decision on the appointment of Trump’s attorney general nominee, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala).
“I am honored to serve President Trump in this role until Senator Sessions is confirmed,” Boente said in a statement. “I will defend and enforce the laws of our country to ensure that our people and our nation are protected.”
Yates released her own statement explaining why she made the decision to defy Trump’s executive order:
My role is different from that of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), which, through administrations of both parties, has reviewed Executive Orders for form and legality before they are issued. OLC’s review is limited to the narrow question of whether, in OLC’s view, a proposed Executive Order is lawful on its face and properly drafted. Its review does not take account of statements made by an administration or it surrogates close in time to the issuance of an Executive Order that may bear on the order’s purpose. And importantly, it does not address whether any policy choice embodied in an Executive Order is wise or just.
In reaction to Yates’ justification for ordering DOJ attorneys not to defend the order, The Washington Post’s Jonathan Adler noted some “significant” details:
A few quick observations. First, the statement seems to indicate that the executive order was reviewed by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which apparently concluded that the executive order was lawful. Second, Yates does not claim that she cannot defend the executive order because it is unconstitutional or because the Justice Department would be unable to offer good-faith arguments in defense of its legality. To the contrary, Yates claims she is ordering the Justice Department not to defend the executive order because it is not “wise or just.” This is quite significant. I am not aware of any instance in which the Justice Department has refused to defend a presumptively lawful executive action on this basis.
There have been protests at airports across the nation over President Trump’s executive order, which halted refugee admissions to U.S. for 120 days and temporarily blocked citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering the country for 90 days. The Trump administration has also been threatened with legal action.