Fmr Acting AG Orders Justice Dept Not to Defend Refugee Ban (See Update)

(Editorial Update: ‘Trump fires acting AG after Justice Department staff told not to defend refugee order,’ see at bottom)

Acting Attorney General Sally Q. Yates, a holdover from the Obama administration, ordered the Justice Department on Monday not to defend President Trump’s executive order on immigration in court.

“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,” Ms. Yates wrote in a letter to Justice Department lawyers. “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.”

The decision is largely symbolic — Mr. Trump’s nominee to be attorney general, Senator Jeff Sessions, is likely to be confirmed soon — but it highlights the deep divide at the Justice Department and elsewhere in the government over Mr. Trump’s order.

Mr. Trump has the authority to fire Ms. Yates, but as the top Senate-confirmed official at the Justice Department, she is the only one authorized to sign foreign surveillance warrants, an essential function at the department.

“For as long as I am the acting attorney general, the Department of Justice will not present arguments in defense of the executive order, unless and until I become convinced that it is appropriate to do so,” she wrote.

(On Monday, acting US Attorney General Sally Yates reportedly told Justice Department lawyers not to make legal arguments defending Donald Trump’s recent order on immigration and refugees. Courtesy of Wochit News and YouTube)

In an interview on MSNBC, Stephen Miller, a senior adviser to the president, reacted to the decision by Ms. Yates.

“That is a further demonstration about how politicized our legal system has become,” Mr. Miller said to Greta Van Susteren.

Stephen Miller, a senior adviser to the president
Stephen Miller

“It’s sad that our politics have become so politicized that you have people refusing to enforce our laws.”

Ms. Yates was expected to inform the White House of her decision early Monday evening. There was no immediate response from the White House. But Mr. Trump is certain to react strongly to the open defiance to his authority.

Ms. Yates’s letter transforms the confirmation of Mr. Sessions as attorney general into a referendum on the immigration order. Action in the Senate could come as early as Tuesday.

The decision by the acting attorney general is a remarkable rebuke by a government official to a sitting president that recalls the dramatic “Saturday Night Massacre” in 1973, when President Richard M. Nixon fired his attorney general and deputy attorney general for refusing to dismiss the special prosecutor in the Watergate case.

That case prompted a constitutional crisis that ended when Robert Bork, the solicitor general, acceded to Mr. Nixon’s order and fired Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor.

Ms. Yates, a career prosecutor, is different because she is a holdover from President Barack Obama’s administration, where she served as deputy attorney general.

She agreed to Mr. Trump’s request to stay on as acting attorney general until Mr. Sessions is confirmed.

(Learn More, courtesy of The White House and YouTube)

Several federal judges blocked part of Mr. Trump’s executive order over the weekend after lawyers representing some of those detained at the airports quickly filed lawsuits. The judges ordered the government not to send detained people back to their home countries.

Mr. Trump’s executive order drew widespread condemnation from around the globe even as the new policy created chaos and confusion at American airports, where refugees and others who arrived on Saturday were detained for hours.

The new president characterized his order as a way to protect Americans from terrorists, and he insisted in a series of Twitter messages that his order, which named seven predominantly Muslim countries, was not an attempt to single out a religion for discrimination.

But protesters rallied at several airports around the world and Mr. Trump received a chorus of bipartisan criticism from lawmakers, academics, corporate executives and human rights advocates as travelers with valid visas or green cards were refused entry back into the United States.

Aides to the president backtracked on Sunday, saying that lawful, permanent residents of the United States would not be barred by the order. But White House officials said the president had no intention of backing down from the order, which continues to shut the borders to refugees and others.

Court motions and hearings are scheduled over the next few days in courtrooms around the country over legal challenges to the immigration order. Questions lingered throughout the day Monday about how and whether Justice Department lawyers in the field would defend the White House order.

Still, Ms. Yates’s message of legal doubt, coming from the acting head of the Justice Department, sent a powerful signal about the cloud over the order.

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Trump fires acting AG after Justice Department staff told not to defend refugee order

By Fox News Politics

President Donald Trump relieved acting Attorney General Sally Yates of her duties Monday night after she directed Justice Department attorneys not to defend Trump’s controversial executive refugee and immigration ban.

Yates, a holdover from the Obama Administration, was replaced as acting attorney general by Dana Boente, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Yates had “betrayed the Justice Department” by refusing to enforce Trump’s order, which temporarily halted the entire U.S. refugee program and banned all entries from seven Muslim-majority nations for 90 days.

Yates said in a memo earlier Monday that she was “not convinced” that Trump’s order was lawful, nor that its defense was consistent with the department’s obligation to “always seek justice and stand for what is right.”

Spicer Twitter“It is time to get serious about protecting our country. Calling for tougher vetting for individuals travelling from seven dangerous places is not extreme,” Spicer said. “It is reasonable and necessary to protect our country.”

Boente, 62, will lead the Justice Department until Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s nominee for attorney general, is confirmed by the Senate.

“I am honored to serve President Trump in this role until Senator Sessions is confirmed,” Boente said in the White House statement. “I will defend and enforce the laws of our country to ensure that our people and our nation are protected.”

Dana J. Boente, Acting Attorney General, and U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia
Dana J. Boente, Acting Attorney General, and U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia

Yates’ abrupt decision deepened the chaos surrounding Trump’s order. The Associated Press reported that at least three top national security officials — Defense Secretary James 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 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.

The fallout was immediate: Friction between Trump and his top advisers and a rush by the Pentagon to seek exemptions to the policy. The White House approach also sparked an unusually public clash between a president and the civil servants tasked with carrying out his policy.

A large group of American diplomats circulated a memo voicing their opposition to the order,  In a startling combative response, Spicer challenged those opposed to the measure to resign.

Sean Spicer, White House spokesman
Sean Spicer, White House spokesman

“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.

Critics dispute the president’s assertion that the policy is needed to keep Americans safe, noting that recent acts of extremist violence have been carried out either by U.S. citizens or by individuals whose families weren’t from the nations singled out in the order.

The president has privately acknowledged flaws in the rollout, according to a person with knowledge of his thinking. But he’s also blamed the media — his frequent target — for what he believes are reports exaggerating the dissent and the number of people actually affected.

Trump has also said he believes the voters who carried him to victory support the plan as a necessary step to safeguard the nation. And he’s dismissed objectors as attention-seeking rabble-rousers and grandstanding politicians.

After a chaotic weekend during which some U.S. legal permanent residents were detained at airports, some agencies were moving swiftly to try to clean up after the White House.

Homeland Security, the agency tasked with implementing much of the refugee ban, clarified that customs and border agents should allow legal residents to enter the country.

The Pentagon was trying to exempt Iraqis who worked alongside the U.S. and coalition forces from the 90-day ban on entry from the predominantly Muslim countries.

“There are a number of people in Iraq who have worked for us in a partnership role, whether fighting alongside us or working as translators, often doing so at great peril to themselves,” said Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman.

Policies with such broad reach are typically vetted by affected agencies and subject to review by multiple agencies. It’s a process that can be frustratingly slow but is aimed at avoiding unintended consequences.

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers in Trump’s party sought to distance themselves from the wide-ranging order.

While Spicer said “appropriate committees and leadership offices” on Capitol Hill were consulted, GOP lawmakers said their offices had no hand in drafting the order and no briefings from the White House on how it would work.

“I think they know that it could have been done in a better way,” Corker said of the White House.

The executive order was largely crafted by Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, and Stephen Miller, a young policy adviser and former congressional aide to Trump’s pick for attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions.

Spicer insisted the advisers had kept departments “in the loop at the level necessary,” but he sidestepped questions about whether Cabinet secretaries were directly involved in the process.

Newt Gingrich
Newt Gingrich

Some Trump supporters defended the president, saying his actions should not have come as a surprise given his positions during the campaign.

“Nothing he did over the weekend was new,” said Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker and an informal adviser.

He conceded that coordination could have been better, but he said Trump’s vow to quickly bring change to Washington will sometimes mean he needs to prioritize fast action over broad consultation.

“If you’re the reformer, you need the momentum,” Gingrich said.

Fox News’ Matt Dean and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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