The White House on Monday night relieved Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, an Obama administration appointee, after she directed Justice Department attorneys not to defend President Donald Trump’s controversial executive order blocking U.S. entry for citizens of seven nations in the Middle East and Africa.
“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,” Yates wrote in an extraordinary letter to Justice Department lawyers.
The President didn’t wait to respond to Yates’ challenge to his authority, issuing a statement that criticized her record and her stance on the issue in question.
“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 statement read. “This order was approved as to form and legality by the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel.”
It continued: “Ms. Yates is an Obama Administration appointee who is weak on borders and very weak on illegal immigration. It is time to get serious about protecting our country. Calling for tougher vetting for individuals travelling from seven dangerous places is not extreme. It is reasonable and necessary to protect our country.”
Trump appointed Dana Boente, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, to serve as Acting Attorney General until the Senate confirms Senator Jeff Sessions. (“He is being wrongly held up by Democrat senators for strictly political reasons,” the White House statement added.) Boente was sworn in around 9 p.m. Eastern Time.
Boente is a 31-year veteran of the Justice Department. He oversaw the prosecution of former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell (later overturned by the Supreme Court) as well as cases against U.S. Rep. William J. Jefferson and former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin.