Acting Attorney General Sally Yates orders DOJ not to defend Trump’s immigration ban

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Acting Attorney General Sally Q. Yates, an appointee of former President Barack Obama who is serving as head of the Department of Justice until President Donald Trump’s replacement is confirmed by the Senate, ordered DOJ employees on Monday not to defend Trump’s entry bans on refugees and citizens of seven Muslim-majority nations.

In a letter to top DOJ lawyers, Yates wrote she disagreed with the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel’s vetting of the executive order and is “at present, I am not convinced that the defense of the executive order is consistent with [her] responsibilities nor am I convinced that the executive order is lawful.”

Lawyers and legal assistants network and use social media in the baggage claim area, amid supplies of pizza, water and other food, at Dulles International Airport, aiding passengers who have arrived and encounter problems because of Donald Trump’s travel ban to the United States, in Chantilly, Virginia, in suburban Washington, U.S., January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Theiler

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“Consequently, for as long as I am the acting attorney general, the Department of Justice will not present arguments in defense of the executive order, unless and until I become convinced that it is appropriate to do so,” Yates concluded.

Over the weekend, CNN reported the executive order was hastily drafted by an inner circle of Trump advisers including former Breitbart executive Stephen Bannon and may have gone into force without thorough vetting by relevant agencies or DOJ lawyers. The announcement of the order, and subsequent chaos of its implementation at airports around the United States as U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers detained an unknown number of travelers at airports, triggered nationwide protests.

Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates speaks during a press conference at the Department of Justice on June 28, 2016 in Washington, DC. Volkswagen has agreed to nearly $15 billion in a settlement over emissions cheating on its diesel vehicles.

(Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)

U.S. Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates testifies during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on “Going Dark: Encryption, Technology, and the Balance Between Public Safety and Privacy” in Washington July 8, 2015.

(REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

U.S. President Barack Obama attends a meeting with FBI Director James Comey (C), Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates (R) along with DHS Secretary Charles Johnson (not pictured) and NCTC Director Nicholas Rasmussen (not pictured) at the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., June 13, 2016.

(REUTERS/Carlos Barria)

U.S. Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates (L) and FBI Director James Comey are sworn in to testify at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on “Going Dark: Encryption, Technology, and the Balance Between Public Safety and Privacy” in Washington July 8, 2015.

(REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates (L) speaks alongside FBI Director James Comey (2L) and Chuck Rosenberg (C), acting administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as they attend a new Implicit Bias Training program at the Department of Justice in Washington, DC, June 28, 2016. 

(SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Going Dark and data encryption in Washington, USA on JULY 8, 2015.

(Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Flanked by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy and Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Edith Ramirez , Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates speaks during a press conference at the Department of Justice on June 28, 2016 in Washington, DC. Volkswagen has agreed to nearly $15 billion in a settlement over emissions cheating on its diesel vehicles.

(Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch (2nd L) delivers closing remarks to the Justice Department Summit on Violence Crime Reduction with Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates (3rd L) and other Justice Department officials at the Washington Plaza Hotel October 7, 2015 in Washington, DC. Lynch invited mayors and police chiefs from 20 cities and other federal officials to the conference to discuss the root causes of crime and strategies for reducing it.

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, in her office at the Justice Department, May 15, 2015, in Washington, DC. Yates, who was confirmed by the Senate yesterday, is a former career prosecutor from Atlanta.

(Photo by Evelyn Hockstein/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)

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As the New York Times noted, Yates’ letter is largely a symbolic move as Trump’s attorney general nominee, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, will likely be approved in coming days. But her refusal to toe the new administration’s line may trigger infighting between the Obama holdovers in the DOJ and Trump’s White House at exactly the time the new president is attempting to move forcefully with his agenda.

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