This is breaking news shortly after 9:00 PM Eastern on Monday, 30 January. Acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates, an Obama appointee in 2015, announced earlier today that she had ordered the Justice Department not to enforce or mount any legal defense of President Trump’s refugee halt from seven terrorist-haven nations in the Middle East and North Africa. Tonight, Trump has fired her from her temporary position.
There will be much to say about this as the situation develops, but the paramount issue is what I want to address here. Although Yates claimed that she issued her order because she felt “the substance of the order was not lawful,” that is not the position of legal experts, who are united in stating that the order is lawful and well within the president’s purview. (See Andrew McCarthy here. I note that the news shows are acknowledging as I type this that Yates didn’t attempt to actually offer a legal case against the Trump order.)
Yates’s objection is not based on legal interpretation. It’s based on a policy difference with the president. She just doesn’t like his policy.
That’s not a stance she has a right to enforce as the head of his Justice Department. If Yates has a policy difference with the president, she needs to tender her resignation.
Of course, Trump has spared her the trouble. It’s his right to do that, and to name an acting AG who will carry out his lawful order.
Dana Boente, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, will be the acting AG until Jeff Sessions is confirmed.
*UPDATE*: Predictably, the mainstream media are calling Yates’s firing a “Monday Night Massacre.” It is no such thing, of course. Yates had no right to defy the president’s lawful policy. She has been very properly removed from her post.
If the political shoe were on the other foot, conservatives would probably object to a leftist-progressive president’s policy, and sympathize with an AG who didn’t want to implement it. But if the policy were being implemented lawfully, conservatives would agree that the president had the right to remove the AG for insubordination.
Jeff Poor captured the inevitable MSM moment:
CNN, MSNBC predictably with screaming "MONDAY NIGHT MASSACRE" chyrons already pic.twitter.com/LxTXvzwfQY
— Jeff Poor (@jeff_poor) January 31, 2017
*UPDATE 2*: That was quick. It’s 1:00 AM Eastern on 31 January, and Dana Boente, the new acting AG, has reportedly directed the Department of Justice already to enforce and defend Trump’s executive order halting refugee entries from the seven terrorist-haven countries (Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen).
BREAKING: New acting attorney general directs Justice Department to defend Trump's executive order on immigration and refugees.
— The Associated Press (@AP) January 31, 2017
It’s easier to cheer, of course, when you think the policy itself is on the right track (even if it has its implementation problems, and could have been rolled out more effectively).
But I would also make this observation. If Yates hadn’t played it the way she did, the momentum of the attention-span news cycle would still be with the protesters. Now it’s with the Yates-Trump showdown, and the undeniable reality that she acted stupidly by defying the president on a policy matter that is within his discretion — not hers. What has been highlighted here is the determination of progressives, particularly Obama appointees, to act outside the law.
If Yates had tried to resort to quiet internal sabotage, we might never have heard of it. It would have been easier for the media to spin and obfuscate her defiance after the fact, at any rate.
But she took an untenable public stance, proposing to grandstand on so-called “moral” grounds instead of doing her job, and got smacked for it. Everyone can understand that, even those who oppose Trump on policy. The beauty of this situation is that there is no question what happened here.