President Donald Trump fired acting Attorney General Sally Yates Monday night when she directed the department not to defend Trump’s immigration ban.
Yates, a holdover from the Obama administration until the Senate confirms Trump’s attorney general pick, said in a statement to the department that she was not “convinced that the executive order is lawful.” Trump subsequently fired Yates, saying she “betrayed” the Department of Justice.
But Trump’s attorney general nominee, Sen. Jeff Sessions, actually encouraged Yates to stand up to the president during her Senate confirmation hearing in 2015.
“You have to watch out, because people will be asking you to do things that you just need to say no about. Do you think the attorney general has a responsibility to say no to the president if he asks for something that’s improper? A lot of people defended the Lynch nomination by saying well, he appoints somebody who’s going to execute his views,” Sessions said. “What’s wrong with that? But if the views that the president wants to execute are unlawful, should the attorney general or the deputy attorney general say no?”
“Senator, I believe that the Attorney General or the Deputy Attorney General has an obligation to follow the law and the Constitution, and to give their independent legal advice to the president,” Yates responded.
Yates’ statement to the public on her decision reflects that sentiment.
“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 the letter, which was published by news agencies. “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.”
The White House said in a statement that Yates was “weak on borders and very weak on illegal immigration.” Trump named Dana Boente, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, as Yates’ replacement as acting attorney general.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is set to vote Tuesday on Sessions’ nomination.