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The Attorney General Defied Trump’s Muslim Ban. He Did One Thing He Knows How to Do: He Fired Her

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President Donald Trump fired acting Attorney General Sally Yates on Monday night, just hours after she announced the Justice Department would not defend Trump’s executive order temporarily banning all refugees, as well as citizens, from seven Muslim-majority nations. Yates had served in the Justice Department for 27 years. The White House issued a statement last night reading: “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.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: President Donald Trump fired acting Attorney General Sally Yates on Monday night, just hours after she announced the Justice Department would not defend Trump’s executive order temporarily banning all refugees, as well as citizens, from seven Muslim-majority nations. Yates had written a memo saying, quote, “I am responsible for ensuring that the positions we take in court remain consistent with this institution’s solemn obligation to always seek justice and stand for what is right. 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.” Yates had served in the Justice Department for 27 years.

AMY GOODMAN: The White House issued a statement last night reading, “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,” unquote. It went on to say, “Ms. Yates is an Obama Administration appointee who is weak on borders and very weak on illegal immigration. It is time to get serious about protecting our country,” unquote. President Trump had asked Yates to serve as acting attorney general until the Senate confirms Senator Jeff Sessions, a close ally of Trump. Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer of New York praised Sally Yates for speaking out.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER: So, Mr. President, we’ve had a number, a large number, of eloquent speeches about the president’s executive order. And while they were going on, of course, we had a Monday Night Massacre. Sally Yates, a person of great integrity, who follows the law, was fired by the president. She was fired because she would not enact, pursue the executive order, on the belief that it was illegal, perhaps unconstitutional. It was a profile in courage. It was a brave act and a right act. And I hope the president and his people who are in the White House learn something from this. … How can you run a country like this? How can you take a major order, major doing, and not check it out with your homeland security secretary, with the Justice Department and the attorney general? I would say, Mr. President, if this continues, this country has big trouble. We cannot have a Twitter presidency.

AMY GOODMAN: President Trump is also facing growing dissent within the State Department over his executive order. Hundreds of diplomats and other State Department officials have signed on to an internal memo saying the order will not make the country safer and runs counter to core American values. At a briefing on Monday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer dismissed the criticism.

PRESS SECRETARY SEAN SPICER: Any government official, or anyone who doesn’t understand the president’s goal in this and what this actually was—again, I think this has been blown way out of proportion and exaggerated. Again, you talk about, in a 24-hour period, 325,000 people from other countries flew in through our airports, and we’re talking about 109 people from seven countries that the Obama administration identified. And these career bureaucrats have a problem with it? I think that they should either get with the program or they can go.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Many commentators have compared Trump’s dismissal of acting Attorney General Sally Yates to the infamous Saturday Night Massacre in 1973, when then-Attorney General Elliot Richardson and his deputy resigned after President Richard Nixon ordered Richardson to fire the special prosecutor investigating the Watergate scandal.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to two women who played key roles during the Nixon years. Elizabeth Holtzman is a former U.S. congresswoman from New York who served on the House Judiciary Committee that voted to impeach Richard Nixon. She’s joining us here in New York. Jill Wine-Banks was an assistant Watergate special prosecutor and the first woman to serve as U.S. Army general counsel. We welcome you both to Democracy Now! We’re going to go to break, and when we come back, we’ll have a discussion. Stay with us.

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