Trump fires acting US attorney general after she refuses to enforce immigration order

WASHINGTON/SAN FRANCISCO, Jan 30 (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump fired the federal government's top lawyer Sally Yates on Monday after she took the extraordinarily rare step of defying the White House and saying the Justice Department would not defend his new travel restrictions targeting seven Muslim-majority nations.

The White House said on Twitter that Dana Boente, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, would replace Yates, an appointee of former Democratic President Barack Obama, as acting U.S. attorney general.

Yates on Monday told Justice Department lawyers in a letter that they would not defend in court Trump's directive that put a 120-day hold on allowing refugees into the country, an indefinite ban on refugees from Syria and a 90-day bar on citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

17 PHOTOS
Sally Yates
See Gallery
Sally Yates
Sally Yates, former acting U.S. attorney general, swears in to a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, May 8, 2017. Yates said she warned the White House's top lawyer in late January that then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn had misled Vice President Mike Pence and others about contacts with Russian officials and was potentially subject to blackmail by them. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) greets former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates after she testified about potential Russian interference in the presidential election before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill Washington, D.C., U.S. May 8, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

U.S. Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates testifies during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on "Going Dark: Encryption, Technology, and the Balance Between Public Safety and Privacy" in Washington July 8, 2015.

(REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

U.S. President Barack Obama attends a meeting with FBI Director James Comey (C), Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates (R) along with DHS Secretary Charles Johnson (not pictured) and NCTC Director Nicholas Rasmussen (not pictured) at the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., June 13, 2016.

(REUTERS/Carlos Barria)

Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates speaks during a press conference at the Department of Justice on June 28, 2016 in Washington, DC. Volkswagen has agreed to nearly $15 billion in a settlement over emissions cheating on its diesel vehicles.

(Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)

U.S. Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates (L) and FBI Director James Comey are sworn in to testify at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on "Going Dark: Encryption, Technology, and the Balance Between Public Safety and Privacy" in Washington July 8, 2015.

(REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

Former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates arrives to testify before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on ?Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election? on Capitol Hill in Washington, U .S., May 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jim Bourg
Former acting Attorney General Sally Yates (2nd R) and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (L) prepare to testify on May 8, 2017, before the US Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates (L) speaks alongside FBI Director James Comey (2L) and Chuck Rosenberg (C), acting administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as they attend a new Implicit Bias Training program at the Department of Justice in Washington, DC, June 28, 2016. 

(SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Going Dark and data encryption in Washington, USA on JULY 8, 2015.

(Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Flanked by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy and Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Edith Ramirez , Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates speaks during a press conference at the Department of Justice on June 28, 2016 in Washington, DC. Volkswagen has agreed to nearly $15 billion in a settlement over emissions cheating on its diesel vehicles.

(Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch (2nd L) delivers closing remarks to the Justice Department Summit on Violence Crime Reduction with Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates (3rd L) and other Justice Department officials at the Washington Plaza Hotel October 7, 2015 in Washington, DC. Lynch invited mayors and police chiefs from 20 cities and other federal officials to the conference to discuss the root causes of crime and strategies for reducing it.

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, in her office at the Justice Department, May 15, 2015, in Washington, DC. Yates, who was confirmed by the Senate yesterday, is a former career prosecutor from Atlanta.

(Photo by Evelyn Hockstein/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 08: Former acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates (R) and Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testify before the Senate Judicary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill May 8, 2017 in Washington, DC. Before being fired by U.S. President Donald Trump, Yates had warned the White House about contacts between former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and Russia that might make him vulnerable to blackmail. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates is sworn in prior to testifying before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on ?Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election? on Capitol Hill in Washington, U .S., May 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jim Bourg TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper are sworn in before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C., U.S. May 8, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Yates said she did not believe defending the order would be "consistent with this institution's solemn obligation to always seek justice and stand for what is right."

Trump has argued tougher vetting of immigrants is needed to protect America from terror attacks but critics complain that his order unfairly singles out Muslims and defiles America's historic reputation as a welcoming place for immigrants.

Yates was days away from being replaced by Trump's pick for the top spot at the Justice Department, Republican Senator Jeff Sessions, who is awaiting Senate confirmation.

The White House dismissed her comments as rhetoric and said Trump acted within his presidential powers.

"I think that's a further demonstration of how politicized our legal system has become," said Stephen Miller, a policy adviser to Trump, in an interview on MSNBC.

There have been only a handful of instances in U.S. history of top Justice Department officials publicly breaking with the White House. The most famous example was in 1973, when then-Attorney General Elliot Richardson resigned rather than obey President Richard Nixon's order to fire a special prosecutor investigating the Watergate scandal.

Trump also fired Acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Daniel Ragsdale from his position on Monday night, replacing him with Thomas Homan, according a press release from the Department of Homeland Security.

(Additional reporting by Dan Levine in San Francisco, Doina Chiacu, Arshad Mohammed, Susan Heavey, Mark Hosenball and Patricia Zengerle in Washington, Jonathan Allen in New York, Brian Snyder in Boston, and Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento; Writing by Roberta Rampton and Alistair Bell; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Bill Rigby)

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.