Donald Trump sacks chief US lawyer Sally Yates who defied him on migrant ban

Noor Hindi (left) and Sham Najjar (right) who
Noor Hindi (left) and Sham Najjar (right) who were born in the US of Syrian parents, demonstrate against the immigration ban imposed by President Trump at the Los Angeles International Airport, California on January 30, 2016. PHOTO | MARK RALSTON | AFP

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 immigration orders.

In a sharply worded statement, the White House called Sally Yates “weak on borders and very weak on illegal immigration” and also criticized Democrats for not yet confirming the appointment of attorney general-designate Jeff Sessions.

“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.

“This order was approved as to form and legality by the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel,” it said.

“Tonight, President Trump relieved Ms Yates of her duties.”


Federal prosecutor Dana Boente will serve as acting attorney general “until Senator Jeff Sessions is finally confirmed by the Senate, where he is being wrongly held up by Democrat senators for strictly political reasons,” it said.

With Trump’s White House facing multiple lawsuits and worldwide opprobrium over an order banning migrants from seven Muslim nations, Yates had whipped the rug from under her boss in a defiant and damaging parting shot.

In a memo to Department of Justice staff, Yates — a career government lawyer promoted by Barack Obama — expressed doubts about the legality and morality of Trump’s decree, which has prompted mass protests.

“My responsibility is to ensure that the position of the Department of Justice is not only legally defensible, but is informed by our best view of what the law is,” Yates wrote.


“I am not convinced that the defence of the executive order is consistent with these responsibilities nor am I convinced that the executive order is lawful,” she added.

“For as long as I am the acting attorney general, the Department of Justice will not present arguments in defence of the executive order, unless and until I become convinced that it is appropriate to do so.”

Yates’s directive means that the US government, at least for now, has no authorized courtroom representation in the lawsuits.

It was a remarkable act of defiance against a tough-talking president who has showed little sign of brooking insubordination.


Sessions has not yet been confirmed by Congress. He faces a vote on the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday and must then be confirmed by the full Senate.

If confirmed, Sessions would almost certainly reverse course.

But Democratic lawmakers have vociferously opposed Trump’s order and Republicans are privately seething over the way his White House has handled the issue.

The order signed on Friday suspended the arrival of all refugees for a minimum of 120 days, Syrian refugees indefinitely and bars citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for 90 days.

Several federal judges have since filed temporary stays.

Firing Yates has uncomfortable echoes of President Richard Nixon’s “Saturday night massacre” during the Watergate scandal.

Then, Nixon fired the Watergate special prosecutor, prompting the departures of his attorney general and deputy attorney general. The events catalysed Nixon’s impeachment.

On Sunday, attorneys general from 16 US states, including California and New York, condemned Trump’s directive as “unconstitutional” and vowed to fight it.

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1 Comment
  1. LWK says

    I bet he (President Trump) was just waiting for the moment he could say with a lot more authority on his head this time–“You’re fired!”

    Well, he has fired a Kenyan before (on his TV show) but this is now ‘real world’ politics we are talking about. Might call it Trump’s ‘realpolitik world.’ But it is not Kavka yet, hopefully. Only to elites who believe that having 120 days to put new policies in place only for states who have sponsored terrorism or in which free-floating terrorists are still roving about–Iran (which has repeatedly said it ‘hates’ America and burns American flags even after the ‘deal’ signed by President Obama); Iraq–although I think Iraq has done its part and share of fighting against IS so they hopefully don’t need to send refugees out of their country any more given they are fighting to make it safer at least for Shiites, maybe not for others; Syria–this one is troublesome as well given that there really are refugees seeking asylum who cannot go back to Syria–but they are probably in holding somewhere they can stay for at least the next 120 days until the new Administration’s vetting policies are in place; and the three African countries that are at best chaotic harbors of radicals who wish death to themselves and everyone else–Libya, Somalia, and Sudan–this latter case has legitimate refugees who are being persecuted for their faith to the tune of ‘death’ not just revoking of a visa, so hopefully this will be taken into consideration by the new Administration.

    Also, before Trump took office Jan. 20 of this year, almost 1/3rd of all refugees from the previous year (2016) had already been whisked into the United States between Jan. 1 and Jan. 19, 2017 (just within the first 20 days of the new year) so I would say that almost 1/3rd of the total quota from the previous year was a good headstart and might even have made up for the 90- to 120-day stay. So, pausing for 120 days is not the end of the world. Well, maybe to Sudanese who are threatened with the ‘death penalty’ just for being Christian pastors under a Kafka-ish regime perhaps. Now where are the morals in that? Not to mention that some African states ban other African states from their citizens entering on visas–let’s see: South Africa & Burundi ban all Rwandans from traveling to their countries; but of course, South Africa allows a head of state with a minimum of 7 warrants for his arrest based upon commission of allowing Genocide to continuously occur in his own country for more than five years to enter and leave freely perhaps so he can go back and continue same as usual. Yet President Trump was lectured and held responsible for pausing for just 120 days until his Administration can get vetting policies and new staff in place–of course perhaps he or his staff could have made an effort to explain that that a tad better than just ‘boom’ “You’re banned!” Clear explanation and reasoning goes a long way in the world of diplomatic relations.

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