President Donald Trump has fired the acting attorney general of the United States after she publicly questioned the constitutionality of his refugee and immigration ban and refused to defend it in court.
The public clash between the new president and Sally Yates, the nation’s top law enforcement officer, laid bare the growing discord and dissent surrounding Trump’s executive order, which temporarily halted the entire US refugee programme and banned all entries from seven Muslim-majority nations for 90 days.
The firing came hours after Yates directed Justice Department attorneys not to defend the executive order, saying she was not convinced it was lawful or consistent with the agency’s obligation “to stand for what is right”.
Trump soon followed with a statement accusing Yates of having “betrayed the Department of Justice by refusing to enforce a legal order designed to protect the citizens of the United States”.
He immediately named longtime federal prosecutor Dana Boente, the US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, as Yates’ replacement.
Boente, who was sworn in late on Monday, said Trump’s executive order was “both lawful on its face and properly drafted”.
Yates’ refusal to defend the executive order was largely symbolic given that Jeff Sessions, Trump’s pick for attorney general, will almost certainly defend the policy once he is sworn in.
He is expected to be confirmed on Tuesday by the Senate Judiciary Committee and could be approved within days by the full Senate.