News broke on Monday evening that President Donald Trump had fired acting Attorney General Sally Yates. The apparently abrupt nature of the president's decision has left some wondering why Sally Yates was fired, despite the fact that, as some pointed out, Yates had metaphorically signed her own dismissal earlier in the day. According to the White House, the Obama appointee had refused to enforce Trump's recent immigration order, prompting the White House to respond in kind.
"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," a White House press release published by CNN stated. The press release, an odd document that seemed to simultaneously announce Yates' release while defending the controversial executive order in question, continued,
It is time to get serious about protecting our country. Calling for tougher vetting for individuals traveling from seven dangerous places is not extreme. It is reasonable and necessary to protect our country.
Yates had served as acting attorney general after the previous attorney general, Loretta Lynch, resigned on Inauguration Day. Just hours before the White House's announcement that Yates had been fired, Yates had shared a public letter with Justice Department attorneys regarding the executive order that Trump had signed on Friday, which temporarily bans entry visas to individuals from seven predominantly Muslim countries, and indefinitely bans Syrian refugees from entering the United States.
“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 her letter. “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."
According to the White House's press release, a new attorney general, Dana Boente, had been sworn in at 9 p.m. Eastern Time. Boente, who is 54, was previously the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. According to Time, Boente has said he will enforce the immigration order.
According to a New York Times account of the events surrounding Monday's dismissal, Yates' defiant letter, in which she questioned the legality of Trump's executive order, was seen in Washington as "a stinging challenge to his [Trump's] authority and laid bare a deep divide at the Justice Department, within the diplomatic corps and elsewhere in the government over the wisdom of his order." According to The Times, Yates' stance on the executive order "effectively overruled" the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which on Friday had approved the executive order “with respect to form and legality.”
Concern about both the legality and intent of the immigration ban has been widespread. With regard to intent, the executive order's stated purpose of protecting U.S. citizens from terrorist attack defies logic. According to Politifact, multiple sources and studies confirm that, since 2001, not a single American had been killed in a terrorist attack by a foreign national from any of the seven countries listed in Trump's ban. And with regards to refugees specifically, the Cato Institute found that, since 1980, when tracking began, zero refugees have enacted a terrorist attack on American soil.
Yates' defiance of the immigration ban came just days before she was expected to step down as acting attorney general in anticipation of Trump's appointee. “This is not how she would have preferred to end her 27-year career. But she did what she had to do,” a Justice Department official told The Washington Post on Monday.
It was certainly a move that took a lot of guts, and millions of American citizens are grateful for it.