Accusing her of betrayal and insubordination, Donald Trump fired acting US Attorney General Sally Yates after she publicly questioned whether his controversial refugee and immigration ban was constitutional and refused to defend it in court.
The dramatic public clash between the new president and the nation's top law enforcement officer laid bare the growing discord and dissent surrounding his executive order, which temporarily halted the entire US refugee program and banned all entries from seven Muslim-majority nations for 90 days.
The move refusing entry to those from Syria, Lybia, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Somalia, and Sudan, set off massive protests at airports across the country.
After the Trump administration suffered its first defeat in federal court over the weekend, staying some aspects of the executive order, Ms Yates issued her denouncement of the action. The President fired her shortly afterwards.
The White House said in a statement that Ms Yates had "betrayed the Department of Justice by refusing to enforce a legal order designed to protect the citizens of the United States."
He immediately named longtime federal prosecutor Dana Boente, the US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, as Yates' replacement.
Mr Boente was sworn in privately, the White House said.
He promptly order Justice Department lawyers to "do our sworn duty and to defend the lawful orders of our President."
He said: “I am honoured to serve President Trump in this role.... I will defend and enforce the laws of our country to ensure that our people and our nation are protected."
Senator Jeff Sessions, Mr Trump's pick for attorney general, will almost certainly defend the policy once he's sworn in.
He's expected to be confirmed by the Senate Judiciary Committee and could be approved within days by the full Senate.
The controversial orders Donald Trump has already issued
The controversial orders Donald Trump has already issued
1/9 Trump and the media
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer takes questions during the daily press briefing
2/9 Trump and the Trans-Pacific Partnership
Union leaders applaud US President Donald Trump for signing an executive order withdrawing the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations during a meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington DC. Mr Trump issued a presidential memorandum in January announcing that the US would withdraw from the trade deal
3/9 Trump and the Mexico wall
A US Border Patrol vehicle sits waiting for illegal immigrants at a fence opening near the US-Mexico border near McAllen, Texas. The number of incoming immigrants has surged ahead of the upcoming Presidential inauguration of Donald Trump, who has pledged to build a wall along the US-Mexico border. A signature campaign promise, Mr Trump outlined his intention to build a border wall on the US-Mexico border days after taking office
4/9 Trump and abortion
US President Donald Trump signs an executive order as Chief of Staff Reince Priebus looks on in the Oval Office of the White House. Mr Trump reinstated a ban on American financial aide being granted to non-governmental organizations that provide abortion counseling, provide abortion referrals, or advocate for abortion access outside of the United States
5/9 Trump and the Dakota Access pipeline
Opponents of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines hold a rally as they protest US President Donald Trump's executive orders advancing their construction, at Columbus Circle in New York. US President Donald Trump signed executive orders reviving the construction of two controversial oil pipelines, but said the projects would be subject to renegotiation
6/9 Trump and 'Obamacare'
Nancy Pelosi who is the minority leader of the House of Representatives speaks beside House Democrats at an event to protect the Affordable Care Act in Los Angeles, California. US President Donald Trump's effort to make good on his campaign promise to repeal and replace the healthcare law failed when Republicans failed to get enough votes. Mr Trump has promised to revisit the matter
7/9 Donald Trump and 'sanctuary cities'
US President Donald Trump signed an executive order in January threatening to pull funding for so-called "sanctuary cities" if they do not comply with federal immigration law
8/9 Trump and the travel ban
US President Donald Trump has attempted twice to restrict travel into the United States from several predominantly Muslim countries. The first attempt, in February, was met with swift opposition from protesters who flocked to airports around the country. That travel ban was later blocked by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The second ban was blocked by a federal judge a day before it was scheduled to be implemented in mid-March
SANDY HUFFAKER/AFP/Getty Images
9/9 Trump and climate change
US President Donald Trump sought to dismantle several of his predecessor's actions on climate change in March. His order instructed the Environmental Protection Agency to reevaluate the Clean Power Plan, which would cap power plant emissions
Ms Yates, a Democrat who was appointed by the Obama administration had earlier order lawyers not to defend Mr Trump's order.
"I am responsible for ensuring that the positions we take in court remain consistent with the institution's solemn obligation to always seek justice and stand for what's right," she said.
"At the present, I am not convinced that the defence of the executive order is consistent with these responsibilities, nor am I convinced that the executive order is lawful."
The new Acting Attorney General, to me just now, on whether he'll enforce the immigration order. pic.twitter.com/Mcll4z6ish— Matt Zapotosky (@mattzap) January 31, 2017
The former Acting Attorney General was the first person to be fired on principle by the Trump administration.
Ms Yates, the highest ranked Senate-approved Justice Department lawyer was the only person with the authority to approve international surveillance warrants.
Press Secretary Sean Spicer had earlier challenged government employees to leave their posts when questioned about US diplomats who issued a dissent memo draft condemning Mr Trump's executive order.
"Any government official who doesn’t understand the President’s goals in this and exactly what it was,” he told reporters, “they should either get with the programme, or they can go."
Former President Barack Obama has also defied custom and spoken out against Mr Trump's order – referred to by civil rights advocates as the "Muslim Exclusion Order". The former president said he was "heartened" to see such civic engagement as Americans take to the streets to denounce the new President.
"Citizens exercising their Constitutional right to assemble, organise and have their voices heard by their elected officials is exactly what we expect to see when American values are at stake," a statement from Mr Obama’s spokesperson said.
"With regard to comparisons to President Obama’s foreign policy decisions, as we’ve heard before," the statement added. "The President fundamentally disagrees with the notion of discriminating against individuals because of their faith."
Meanwhile, the state of Washington his filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration for the refugee ban.
"We are a country based on the rule of law, and in a courtroom it is not the loudest voice that prevails, it's the Constitution," the state's Attorney General Bob Ferguson said at a news conference.
"At the end of the day, either you're abiding by the Constitution or you are not. And in our view, the President is not adhering to the Constitution when it comes to this executive action."Reuse content