President Donald Trump begins his 11th day in office shrouded in crisis, roundly criticized for a chaotic unveiling of immigration measures and under new scrutiny after he fired the nation’s top law enforcement officer who refused to enforce them.
On an extraordinary night of political drama Monday, the President dismissed acting attorney general Sally Yates by letter after she instructed the Justice Department not to defend Trump’s immigration order, which bans travelers from seven Muslim-majority nations and temporarily halts refugee arrivals.
Yates was a remnant of the Obama administration, only in office until the Senate confirms Jeff Sessions as the next attorney general. But her dismissal reflected the sudden political forces unleashed in Washington in the early days of the Trump administration as the President seeks to impose his authority on the federal government and shows little patience for those who would block him from implementing core campaign pledges.
The dramatic move came soon after CNN reported Yates told Justice Department lawyers not to make legal arguments defending Trump’s executive order on immigration and refugees.
“(Yates) has betrayed the Department of Justice,” the White House statement said.
Dana Boente, who Trump appointed to succeed Yates as acting attorney general, rescinded Yates’ guidance and instructed the Justice Department to “defend the lawful orders of our president.”
Democrats reacted with outrage to the night’s dramatic events, warning that it called into question the independence of the Justice Department in the Trump administration.
“Trump has commenced a course of conduct that is Nixonian in its design and execution and threatens the long-vaunted independence of DOJ,” Michigan Democratic Rep. John Conyers tweeted. “If dedicated gov officials deem his directives to be unlawful & unconstitutional, he will simply fire them as if gov is a reality show.”
But Trump’s former GOP rival, Sen. Ted Cruz, jumped to the President’s defense.
“After eight long years of a lawless Obama Department of Justice, it is fitting–and sad–that the very last act of the Obama DOJ is for the Acting AG to defy the newly elected President, refuse to enforce the law, and force the President to fire her,” Cruz said in a statement.
Yates was fired as the administration was still recovering from the fury surrounding Trump’s hardline immigration measures, including stinging criticism from some congressional Republicans who said the administration’s process was far from smooth.
“They know it could’ve been done in a better way and my guess is they’re going to try to clean it up,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican, told reporters. “They probably learned that communication and the inter-agency process would probably be helpful.”