President Donald Trump relieved acting Attorney General Sally Yates of her duties Monday night after she directed Justice Department attorneys not to defend Trump’s controversial executive refugee and immigration ban.
Yates, a holdover from the Obama Administration, was replaced as acting attorney general by Dana Boente, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. Boente, 62, was sworn in Monday evening. He will lead the Justice Department until Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s nominee for attorney general, is confirmed by the Senate.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Yates had “betrayed the Department of Justice by refusing to enforce a legal order designed to protect the citizens of the United States.” The executive order, which Trump signed Friday, temporarily halted the entire U.S. refugee program and banned all entries from seven Muslim-majority nations for 90 days.
Yates said in a memo earlier Monday that she was “not convinced” that Trump’s order was lawful, nor that its defense was consistent with what she described as the department’s obligation to “always seek justice and stand for what is right.”
“It is time to get serious about protecting our country. Calling for tougher vetting for individuals travelling from seven dangerous places is not extreme,” Spicer said. “It is reasonable and necessary to protect our country.”
“I am honored to serve President Trump in this role until Senator Sessions is confirmed,” Boente said in the White House statement. “I will defend and enforce the laws of our country to ensure that our people and our nation are protected.”
Yates’ abrupt decision deepened the chaos surrounding Trump’s order. The Associated Press reported that at least three top national security officials — Defense Secretary James Mattis, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Rex Tillerson, who is awaiting confirmation to lead the State Department — have told associates they were not aware of details of directive until around the time Trump signed it. Leading intelligence officials were also left largely in the dark, according to U.S. officials.
Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations committee, said that despite White House assurances that congressional leaders were consulted, he learned about the order in the media.