Sally Yates’ ouster is all about loyalty to the executive branch.
By Jared Keller
Sally Yates speaks during a press conference on June 28th, 2016. (Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)
On Monday evening, President Donald Trump dismissed the acting United States Attorney General Sally Yates after she openly defied his executive order banning citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the country, Reuters reports.
Just hours before her dismissal, Yates — an Obama appointee and the country’s top lawyer until the Senate confirms Jeff Sessions — had instructed the Department of Justice (DOJ) not to enforce the president’s new executive order on immigration. “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,” she told DOJ lawyers, according to the New York Times.
Yates, of course, did not pledge an oath to the president; she pledged an oath to the Constitution. So her firing is sure to ruffle quite a few feathers. But the Trump administration doesn’t really care about outside appearances here. Yates’ ouster is about loyalty to the executive branch. “The acting Attorney General, Sally Yates, has betrayed the Department of Justice by refusing to enforce a legal order designed to protect the citizens of the United States,” the White House said in a Monday evening statement. “This order was approved as to form and legality by the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel.”
Yates wasn’t the only high-profile federal law enforcement official on the block Monday: Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly announced that Thomas Homan would replace acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Daniel Ragsdale at the head of the nation’s primary border agency. Ragsdale wasn’t fired, despite Monday evening rumors on Twitter, but effectively demoted to deputy director, per the Washington Post.
The firings are not insignificant: The last time a sitting president so dramatically dismissed an attorney general, according to the New York Times, was Nixon’s 1973 blow-up over his attorney general’s refusal to dismiss a special prosecutor in the Watergate saga. But it’s not unsurprising, given the intense friction between Trump’s administration and the army of civil servants who make up the sprawling bureaucracy of the federal government, from the Environmental Protection Agency to the DOJ. Trump’s clash with Yates on the grounds of insubordination won’t be the last: The fault lines are already forming within the U.S. diplomatic corp, according to BuzzFeed News, which will likely be forced to resist implementing Trump’s travel ban.
Trump supporters have been itching to hear him utter his trademark “you’re fired” from behind the Resolute desk — and, it looks like, they’re about to have their wish granted more than they ever wanted.