After acting attorney general Sally Yates issued a memo Monday ordering U.S. Justice Department lawyers not to defend President Trump's controversial immigration executive order, he "relieved" her of her duties," according to a White House statement late Monday evening. Yates, 56, a career official with a history of bipartisan support and former U.S. President Barack Obama appointee, said she was "not convinced" Trump's immigration order is "lawful" and that the Justice Department would not defend it in court "until I become convinced that it is appropriate to do so." The Washington Post reported Yates was informed of her dismissal 2 minutes before the statement announcing it was sent to reporters.
"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 after consideration of all the facts," Yates wrote in the memo.
Yates' sparkling resume spans decades of public service and high-profile court victories, reports AJC. A two-decade federal prosecutor in Atlanta, Yates tried public corruption cases against former Democratic Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell and former Republican Georgia schools superintendent Linda Schrenko. She also prosecuted Atlanta Olympics bomber Eric Rudolph. She has a law-and-order background. Her father served on the state Court of Appeals. His father served on both the state Court of Appeals and state Supreme Court.
Dana Boente, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Va., was sworn in around 9 p.m. EST Monday, to replace Yates, said White House spokesman Michael Short. Reporters and news photographers were not invited to witness the swearing-in ceremony, reports CBS News.
Not everyone is in agreement that Yates' circumstances were appropriately handled. "The attorney general is the people's attorney, not the president's attorney," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, according to Tuesday morning news coverage on MSNBC.
The White House statement from Monday night contained strong language, indicating they considered Yates to have "betrayed the Department of Justice by refusing to enforce a legal order designed to protect the citizens of the United States."
White House spokespeople defended their actions in the statement, indicating that the order "was approved as to form and legality by the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel."
The White House statement called Yates "weak on borders" and "very weak on illegal immigration," although there is no evidence cited for such a negative claim.
On Tuesday, Yahoo reported on a video that documented what some believe to be a relevant association to the current situation. During Yates' 2015 Senate confirmation hearing, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions - who is now Trump's yet-to-be-confirmed nominee for attorney general - grilled Yates on her responsibility to defend the Constitution and U.S. laws against then-President Barack Obama's "unlawful" views.
"You have to watch out because people will be asking you to do things and you need to say no," Sessions said during the hearing. "If the views the president wants to execute are unlawful, should the attorney general or the deputy attorney general say no?"
"Senator, I believe 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 replied.
Critics have raised questions about whether Sessions, an early endorser of Trump during the campaign, would make sure the Justice Department is independent from the White House's political aims. In a recent statement to the Washington Post, White House chief strategist Steve Bannon called Sessions "the fiercest, most dedicated, and most loyal promoter in Congress of Trump's agenda, and has played a critical role as the clearinghouse for policy and philosophy to undergird the implementation of that agenda."