Julie Pace and Eric Tucker, AP
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Monday fired Sally Yates, the acting attorney general and a Democratic appointee, after she refused to defend in court his controversial refugee and immigration ban.
The extraordinary public clash over Trump’s most consequential policy decision to date laid bare the discord and dissent surrounding the executive order, which temporarily halted the entire U.S. refugee program 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 always seek justice and stand for what is right.”
In a statement, Trump said Yates had “betrayed the Department of Justice by refusing to enforce a legal order designed to protect the citizens of the United States.” He named longtime federal prosecutor Dana Boente as Yates’ replacement.
Yates’ abrupt decision reflected the dissent over the order, with administration officials moving to distance themselves from the policy. As protests erupted at airports over the weekend and confusion disrupted travel around the globe, some of Trump’s top advisers and fellow Republicans privately noted they were not consulted about the policy.
At least three top national security officials — Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Rex Tillerson, who is awaiting confirmation to lead the State Department — have told associates they were not aware of details of the directive until around the time Trump signed it. Leading intelligence officials were also left largely in the dark, according to U.S. officials.
Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations committee, said that despite White House assurances that congressional leaders were consulted, he learned about the order in the media.
Other parts of Trump’s administration were voicing dissent Monday. A large group of American diplomats circulated a memo voicing their opposition to the order, which temporarily halted the entire U.S. refugee program and banned all entries from seven Muslim-majority nations for 90 days. In a startlingly combative response, White House spokesman Sean Spicer challenged those opposed to the measure to resign.
“They should either get with the program or they can go,” Spicer said.
The blowback underscored Trump’s tenuous relationship with his own national security advisers, many of whom he met for the first time during the transition, as well as with the government bureaucracy he now leads. While Trump outlined his plan for temporarily halting entry to the U.S. from countries with terror ties during the campaign, the confusing way in which it finally was crafted stunned some who have joined his team.
Mattis, who stood next to Trump during Friday’s signing ceremony, is said to be particularly incensed. A senior U.S. official said Mattis, along with Joint Chiefs Chairman Joseph Dunford, was aware of the general concept of Trump’s order but not the details. Tillerson has told the president’s political advisers that he was baffled over not being consulted on the substance of the order.
U.S. officials and others with knowledge of the Cabinet’s thinking insisted on anonymity in order to disclose the officials’ private views.