WASHINGTON / AP
In an extraordinary public showdown, President Donald Trump fired the acting attorney general of the United States after she publicly questioned the constitutionality of his refugee and immigration ban and refused to defend it in court.
The clash Monday night between Trump and Sally Yates, a career prosecutor and Democratic appointee, laid bare the growing discord and dissent surrounding an executive order that halted the entire US refugee program and banned all entries from seven Muslim-majority nations for 90 days. The firing, in a written statement released just hours after Yates went public with her concerns, also served as a warning to other administration officials that Trump is prepared to terminate those who refuse to carry out his orders.
Yates’ refusal to defend the executive order was largely symbolic given that Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s pick for attorney general, will almost certainly defend the policy once he’s sworn in. He’s expected to be confirmed on Tuesday by the Senate Judiciary Committee and could be approved within days by the full Senate.
Yet the firing reflected the mounting conflict over the executive order, as administration officials have moved to distance themselves from the policy and even some of Trump’s top advisers have made clear that they were not consulted on its implementation.
As protests erupted at airports across the globe, and as legal challenges piled up in courthouses, Yates directed agency attorneys not to defend the executive order. She said in a memo Monday she was not convinced it was lawful or consistent with the agency’s obligation “to stand for what is right.” Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, soon followed with a statement accusing Yates of having “betrayed the Department of Justice by refusing to enforce a legal order designed to protect the citizens of the United States.” Trump named longtime federal prosecutor Dana Boente, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, as Yates’ replacement. Boente was sworn in privately late Monday, the White House said, and rescinded Yates’s directive.
A large group of career diplomats circulated several drafts of a memo arguing that the order Trump signed last week will not make the US safe, saying it runs counter to American values and will fuel anti-American sentiment around the world.
Spicer challenged those opposed to the measure to resign. “They should either get with the program or they can go,” he said.
The chain of events bore echoes of the Nixon-era “Saturday Night Massacre,” when the attorney general and deputy attorney general resigned rather than follow an order to fire a special prosecutor investigating the Watergate scandal. The prosecutor, Archibald Cox, was fired by the solicitor general.
Yates, a holdover from the Obama administration who was the top federal prosecutor in Atlanta and later became Loretta Lynch’s deputy, was not alone in her misgivings.
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 US 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 from the media.
McCain emerges as Trump’s top Republican nemesis in Congress
WASHINGTON / AP
Sen. John McCain has emerged as President Donald Trump’s top Republican nemesis on Capitol Hill.
Since Trump’s inauguration, McCain has broken with the president on his immigration order, warned him against any rapprochement with Moscow, lectured him on the illegality of torture, and supplied only a tepid endorsement of Rex Tillerson, Trump’s secretary of state nominee.
Oh, and McCain also hammered Trump for backing away from — instead of embracing — international free trade agreements.
As Trump presses ahead with an ambitious and contentious agenda at home and abroad, McCain is pushing back, using his seniority in Congress and his characteristic bluntness. McCain, 80, cruised to a sixth Senate term in November, defeating a Democratic challenger who hounded the senator for standing by Trump even after the billionaire businessman insulted him as a “loser.”