On Monday evening, President Trump continued with his early-term shockfest by firing acting Attorney General Sally Yates after she sent a letter refusing to defend his immigration ban.
Because Donald Trump’s cabinet pick for attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has not yet been confirmed, Yates, a holdover from the Obama administration, took the position of acting attorney general. After President Trump ordered the immigration ban, Yates reviewed the order to determine whether it was constitutional and legal.
Yates, who is a lawyer with over two decades of experience prosecuting terrorists, determined that the ban is unconstitutional. Yates drafted a letter that explained why the Justice Department would not present arguments to defend the ban.
"My responsibility is to ensure that the position of the Department of Justice is not only legally defensible, but is informed by our best view of what the law is after consideration of all the facts," she said in the letter. "In addition, I am responsible for ensuring that the positions we take in court remain consistent with this institution's solemn obligation to always seek justice and stand for what is right."
Yates continued to explain that the policies put in place by President Trump’s executive order do not comply with constitutional law.
"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," Yates wrote.
Shortly after Yates presented the letter, she received a letter from President Trump relieving her of her duties. She was then described by the Trump administration as “weak” and someone who betrayed the president.
As news of Yates firing made headlines, many called the evening the "Monday Night Massacre" in reference to Richard Nixon's firing of Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor handling the Watergate case. Then Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus resigned after refusing to carry out the president’s orders. Nixon went on to abolish the special prosecutor’s office entirely. The incident became known as the "Saturday Night Massacre."
In the 2015 confirmation hearing for Yates to become Deputy Attorney General, she was ironically asked by current attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions if she would always follow the president or uphold the constitution.
"Senator, I believe 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," Yates confidently answered.
That moment eerily foreshadowed the day that Sally Yates went from being a prosecutor from the Obama administration to a national hero.
(Photos from Left: Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images, Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)
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