Trump Fires Official Who Refused to Defend Travel Ban


31 January, 2017

U.S. President Donald Trump has removed Acting Attorney General Sally Yates for refusing to enforce or defend an executive order he signed last week limiting immigration.

The president appointed Dana Boente to replace Yates as the acting head of the Justice Department. Boente immediately cancelled Yates' order and vowed to "defend the lawful orders of our president."

The order stops all refugees from entering the United States for 120 days, and bans Syrian refugees indefinitely. It also blocks people from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria, Sudan, Yemen and Somalia.

The Associated Press noted that Yates' removal was "a warning to other administration officials that Trump is prepared to terminate those who refuse to carry out his orders." The news agency called the firing "an extraordinary public showdown."

Yates was named to the second-highest position in the Justice Department by then-President Barack Obama. On Monday, she ordered the department's lawyers not to defend the immigration order.

FILE - Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates speaks during a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington, June 28, 2016. (AP Photo/J. David Ake, File)
FILE - Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates speaks during a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington, June 28, 2016. (AP Photo/J. David Ake, File)

In a memo, she wrote, "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."

The career prosecutor added: "For as long as I am the Acting Attorney General, the Department of Justice will not present arguments in defense of the Executive Order, unless and until I become convinced that it is appropriate to do so."

A few hours later, Yates was fired. The White House press secretary released a statement saying Yates "betrayed the Department of Justice by refusing to enforce a legal order designed to protect the citizens of the United States." It said the department's Office of Legal Counsel approved the order.

Mixed reaction to the firing

Many Democrats criticized the decision to fire Yates. Steny Hoyer, a senior Democratic congressman, called the decision "alarming." He said "the American people need to consider whether President Trump simply plans to dismiss anyone with whom he disagrees, and I hope my Republican colleagues stand up and express concern over this as well."

Chuck Schumer is the Senate minority leader. He wrote on Twitter that the attorney general "should pledge fidelity to the law and the Constitution, not the White House. The fact that this [administration] doesn't understand that is chilling."

But Republican Senator Ted Cruz strongly defended the decision to fire Yates. He said Yates' refusal to support the executive order is a "fitting and sad" last act of Obama's Department of Justice.

"President Trump was exactly right to fire an acting attorney general who refused to carry out her constitutional duty to enforce and defend the law," Cruz said.

This week, the Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to approve the nomination of Senator Jeff Sessions for attorney general. He is expected to defend and enforce Trump's immigration order.

Senator Sessions was a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2015 when Yates was confirmed to be the deputy attorney general.

During a hearing on her confirmation, Sessions asked Yates: "If the views the president wants to execute are unlawful, should the attorney general or the deputy attorney general say no?"

Yates said she believed that "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."

I'm Anna Matteo.

VOA News Writer Chris Hannas wrote this story with additional reporting from Nike Ching, the Associated Press and Reuters. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted the story for Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.

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Words in This Story

executive order – n. an order that comes from the U.S. President or a government agency and must be obeyed like a law

terminate – v. to take a job away from (someone)

betray – v. to do something that does not agree with (your beliefs, principles, etc.)

pledge – v. to formally promise to give or do (something)

fidelity – n. the quality of being faithful or loyal to a country, organization, etc. (usually + to)

chilling – adj. very disturbing or frightening

act – n. something that is done