US President Donald Trump on Monday fired the acting attorney general, a holdover from the Obama administration, after she ordered Justice Department attorneys not to defend his controversial executive order on immigration.
“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.
“President Trump relieved Ms Yates of her duties and subsequently named Dana Boente, US attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, to serve as acting attorney general until Senator Jeff Sessions is finally confirmed by the Senate.”
Yates on Monday told Justice Department lawyers in a letter that they would not defend in court Trump’s directive that put a 120-day hold on allowing refugees into the country, an indefinite ban on refugees from Syria and a 90-day bar on citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
Yates said she did not believe defending the order would be “consistent with this institution’s solemn obligation to always seek justice and stand for what is right.”
Trump has argued tougher vetting of immigrants is needed to protect America from terror attacks but critics complain that his order unfairly singles out Muslims and defiles America’s historic reputation as a welcoming place for immigrants.
Yates was days away from being replaced by Trump’s pick for the top spot at the Justice Department, Republican Senator Jeff Sessions, who is awaiting Senate confirmation.
The White House dismissed her comments as rhetoric and said Trump acted within his presidential powers.