Donald Trump fired Acting Attorney General Sally Yates after she said she’d refuse to defend the president’s executive order on immigration and refugees, also known as the “Muslim ban.” Yates had been at the Justice Department for 27 years, working with both Republican and Democratic administrations. She was confirmed as Deputy Attorney General by the Senate in 2015, winning 84 yes votes.
Writing at Politico in the aftermath of the firing, former Justice official Brian Fallon asserts, “it is an entirely appropriate exercise of the attorney general’s authority to determine whether, and how, to defend a president’s executive orders in the face of legal challenge.” That speaks to the reasoning behind Yates’s refusal. But Yates had already warned — during her confirmation hearings — that she would have no problem standing up to the president if a presidential action was potentially illegal. In fact, Sen. Jeff Sessions — Trump’s nominee for the AG post — put the question to Yates in 2015. She replied:
“I believe the attorney general or the deputy attorney general has an obligation to the law and the Constitution, and to give their independent legal advice to the president.”