Washington (CNN)President Donald Trump fired acting Attorney General Sally Yates Monday night after she refused to defend his immigration order and touched off a major drama in the opening days of his presidency.
“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,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said in a statement.
The fast-moving events Monday thrust Yates into a standoff with the new president and into the national spotlight. Appointed by President Barack Obama, Yates had been running Trump’s Justice Department until his attorney general nominee, Sen. Jeff Sessions, is confirmed. Before that, she had spent years defending Obama administration policies, championing changes to the criminal justice system and curtailing the federal government’s use of private prisons.
Monday, Yates told Justice Department lawyers not to make legal arguments defending Trump’s executive order on immigration and refugees, launching herself into the biggest controversy of the opening days of Trump’s presidency.
“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,” Yates said in a letter to department lawyers.
Hours later, she was gone, a dramatic end to her lengthy career in the department.
Born in Atlanta in 1960, Yates attended the University of Georgia both as an undergrad and a law student — becoming what the home of the Bulldogs calls a “double dawg.”
Three years after graduating from UGA, she began her career that has spanned almost three decades within the Justice Department, according to her DOJ biography page.
Yates accepted the request, and that meant Trump would have someone leading DOJ who is well outside of his ideological mold.
The current clash was set up by Trump’s decision to move ahead with the immigration executive order — suspending the refugee program and temporarily halting travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries — before Sessions was installed.
The day after Trump’s order came down, a federal judge blocked part of the order. More legal challenges mounted, and Yates instructed the department not to defend the administration from them.
Monday night, she was hand-delivered a letter from the White House that ended her Justice Department career.