WASHINGTON (CN) – President Donald Trump fired the acting U.S. attorney general Monday night for refusing to defend his executive order barring refugees and people from seven predominantly Muslim counties from entering the United States.
Saying that Sally Q. Yates, a deputy attorney general under President Barack Obama, had “betrayed the Department of Justice,” Trump replaced her with Dana Boente, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.
“Ms. Yates is an Obama administration appointee who is weak on borders and very weak on illegal immigration,” Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer said in a statement minutes after Yates had been fired.
The firing is sure to provide fireworks for this morning’s vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee on whether to send Trump’s nominee for U.S. attorney general, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, to the full Senate for confirmation.
Yates had issued an order to Department of Justice attorneys, telling them: “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.”
Trump’s order sparked widespread protests across the country and the world, particularly at U.S. airports, where refugees with legal visas have been arrested and detained, and at airports overseas, where refugees with legal visas have been prevented from boarding planes.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on Monday attempted to delay a vote on former Exxon Mobile CEO Rex Tillerson’s nomination as secretary of state until Trump rescinds the controversial order. Schumer’s protest failed when Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, objected, and the Senate moved Tillerson’s nomination forward on a procedural vote.
Dozens of legal challenges have been filed against the order in the days since Trump announced it, with federal courts across the country ruling in favor of plaintiffs requesting a stay.
On Sunday, Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly said his office interpreted the order did not include legal permanent residents, also known as green card holders, who would be allowed to re-enter the country even if they are from one of the countries mentioned in the order.
The Senate Judiciary Committee’s vote on Sessions’ nomination is the first item on the agenda today, which meets at 9:30 a.m.
Democrats oppose Sessions, as racist comments he made decades ago prevented him from being confirmed then as a federal judge.
The stunningly quick decapitation of the Office of the Attorney General on Monday night, quickly reported around the nation, recalled for many editorialists President Richard Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre, of Oct. 20, 1973.
Nixon that night, besieged by Watergate and facing a subpoena from Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox, fired Attorney General Elliot Richardson and then Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus, who refused his orders to fire Cox.
The firings did not save Nixon, as the replacement special prosecutor, Leon Jaworski, followed the Watergate investigation to its conclusion.
A little-remembered sidenote to history is that the man who did fire Cox was U.S. Solicitor General Robert Bork, whose failed nomination to the Supreme Court in 1987, by President Ronald Reagan, was the first giant step toward the bitterly polarized and politicized state of the Supreme Court nominating process today.