On Monday afternoon Sally Q. Yates, President Barack Obama’s Deputy Attorney General who was supposed to serve as interim head of the office until Congress confirmed President Trump’s nominee, wrote Justice Department lawyers that “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.” By “these responsibilities” she meant defending the new president’s ban on travelers from seven Muslim countries, and by “executive order” she meant the law of the land as dictated by the same new president.
At 9:15 PM, according to the NY Times, Yates received a hand-delivered letter signed by White House aide John DeStefano, telling her “the president has removed you from the office of Deputy Attorney General of the United States.”
Then, at 9:17 PM by the NY Times’ clock, and in typical Trump fashion, White House press secretary Sean Spicer issued a statement saying, “Ms. Yates is an Obama administration appointee who is weak on borders and very weak on illegal immigration.”
He had us at “Obama administration appointee.”
A little earlier, at 9 PM, Dana J. Boente, United States attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, was sworn in as Yates’ replacement, but not before he reportedly pledged to “defend and enforce the laws of our country.”
Turns out this part is crucial for the US Attorney General. Who knew?
Everyone was citing the October 20, 1973 Saturday Night Massacre, at the height of the Watergate scandal, when President Richard Nixon’s fired independent special prosecutor Archibald Cox, which was followed by the resignations of Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus. Not an accurate comparison, other than the fact that it involved firing a lawyer. The “massacre” was begun by a desperate president was fighting for his political life, while the Yates firing was done by an enormously confident president who sent home a subordinate for refusing to carry out her assignment.
Incidentally, Yates confessed that she had considered resigning as soon as she heard about the traveler ban last Friday, but, as she told her colleagues, she felt sorry for her replacement who would have to face the same unpleasant job. So now that part was taken care of. Dana Boente, a 31 year veteran with the Justice Department, reportedly “had no hesitation about accepting the acting attorney general’s job given his ‘seniority and loyalty’ to the department.”
Or, as a spokesman for the United States attorney’s office put it, Boente told the White House that he is willing to sign off on Trump’s executive order on refugees and immigration.