Politics ESSENTIAL WASHINGTON

This is our look at President Trump's administration and the rest of Washington:

Neil Gorsuch could fall somewhere between his hero, Justice Scalia, and former boss, centrist Justice Kennedy

Republican Wayne Allard, then a U.S. senator from Colorado, left, introduces Neil Gorsuch at a nomination hearing to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in June 2006. (Lauren Victoria Burke)
Republican Wayne Allard, then a U.S. senator from Colorado, left, introduces Neil Gorsuch at a nomination hearing to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in June 2006. (Lauren Victoria Burke)

Judge Neil M. Gorsuch was resting midway down a Colorado ski slope last year when his cellphone rang with the news that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia had died.

“I immediately lost what breath I had left,” Gorsuch recalled in an April speech, “and I am not embarrassed to admit that I couldn’t see the rest of the way down the mountain for the tears.”

Now, as President Trump’s pick to replace Scalia on the high court, Gorsuch is seen by many on the right as a fitting replacement for the iconic jurist that Gorsuch considered a “lion of the law.” 

Like Scalia, Gorsuch, 49, who serves on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, is a well-respected conservative who believes judges should decide cases based on the law as it was understood when passed, not on how they think it should be. He’s a clear, impassioned writer, albeit without Scalia’s flare for biting sarcasm.

But Gorsuch also evokes the qualities of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, for whom Gorsuch worked as a law clerk. (If confirmed, Gorsuch would join three justices who previously clerked on the high court, but he would be the first ever to serve alongside the justice he or she worked for.)

Like Kennedy, 80, Gorsuch is a Westerner with a polite, congenial manner who at times has won praise from liberals. He may be more conservative than Kennedy when it comes to expanding individual rights, but he seems to lack Scalia’s fervor for overturning liberal precedents from decades past.

Which way Gorsuch skews could be pivotal for the future of the court. Conservatives clearly hope he’ll be more like Scalia than Kennedy, a centrist swing vote who has often joined liberals on issues such as gay marriage and abortion. Some conservatives have even expressed hope that Gorsuch’s personal history with Kennedy might enable him to draw the Reagan-appointee back toward the right.

Supreme Court

Trump chooses Neil Gorsuch, a conservative seen as likely to be confirmed, for Supreme Court

Judge Neil M. Gorsuch. (Lauren Victoria Burke / Denver Post)
Judge Neil M. Gorsuch. (Lauren Victoria Burke / Denver Post)

President Trump nominated federal Judge Neil M. Gorsuch on Tuesday to the Supreme Court to fill the seat of the late Antonin Scalia, choosing from his short list an appeals court judge from Denver seen as most likely to win Senate confirmation.

Because Scalia was a stalwart conservative, Trump’s choice is not likely to change the balance of the court. But it does set the stage for a bruising partisan fight over a man who could help determine law on gun rights, immigration, police use of force and transgender rights.

Protests

Protests continue around the country

The hashtag #ResistTrumpTuesdays trended Tuesday, as protests against President Trump's immigration policies and Cabinet nominees continued around the country. Protests took place in Brooklyn; Kansas City, Mo.; Miami; Minneapolis; New Brunswick, N.J.; Tucson; and Worcester, Mass., as well as outside of lawmakers' offices in Washington, D.C.

In Brooklyn, thousands of protesters marched to the apartment building of U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to demand that he reject President Trump's Cabinet picks.

In Minneapolis, protesters gathered to object to Trump's ban on travelers from Muslim-majority countries.

And in Tucson, a peaceful crowd outside John McCain's office urged the senator, who had called Trump's refugee ban a "self-inflicted wound in the fight against terrorism," to take action against the executive order.

Supreme Court

Watch: President Trump announces Neil Gorsuch as Supreme Court nominee

Congress

Trump administration is radicalizing Democratic voters, creating a challenge for the party, Rep. Adam Schiff says

 (Mark Wilson / Getty Images)
(Mark Wilson / Getty Images)

As protests spread over policy announcements from the Trump administration, Democrats must work to encourage participation in politics, but face a danger of the party becoming too radicalized, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) said Tuesday.

“The radical nature of this government is radicalizing Democrats, and that’s going to pose a real challenge to the Democratic Party, which is to draw on the energy and the activism and the passion that is out there, but not let it turn us into what we despised about the tea party," Schiff said. 

During a meeting with reporters and editors in the Los Angeles Times'  Washington bureau, Schiff also discussed his role as the highest-ranking Democrat on the House Select Intelligence Committee under a Trump administration and how Democrats will manage in the minority.

Ever since the election, party leaders have been debating: "Did we lose because we were too far to the left and we had too small a tent, or did we lose because we are too mainstream and didn’t energize the base?" Schiff asked.

"We are obviously having that debate, but there’s a whole new element, which is the reaction to the Trump administration that makes this different in kind, certainly different in intensity, than I think we’ve ever seen after an election,” he said.

“The more radical the administration is, the more radicalized our base becomes, which just feeds the Breitbart crowd, and who knows where that ends.”

Democratic leaders have to channel public reaction to Trump's actions into progress, rather than deadlock, Schiff said.

Reaction to Democrats seen as working with the Trump administration has been strong. Monday night, for example, protesters marched on Sen. Dianne Feinstein's home and office voicing fears she would back Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions for attorney general. The senator from California announced Tuesday that she would oppose Sessions.

Several groups calling themselves "indivisible" have popped up in cities across the country as focal points for efforts to organize.

“We have two of the most capable strategists as the head of our House and Senate Democrats," Schiff added, referring to House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco and Senate Democratic leader Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York.

"If anybody can grapple with this, they can, but it’s going to be a challenging and moving target day to day."

"I just hope that we can channel that energy in a way where we can provide a check on this administration because I’ve never been more worried about the country’s future than I am right now," he said.

Schiff said part of his role as the ranking Democrat on the House Select Intelligence Committee will be pushing back when the Trump administration puts out inaccurate information about the intelligence community and its findings.

Trump has repeatedly dismissed or sought to minimize the intelligence community's findings that Russia sought to intervene in the 2016 election to benefit him. Schiff said he’s concerned about what else the administration might be willing to dismiss.

“I think that will be kind of a new frontier,” he said. “How do we contradict a president making representations about what the intelligence community has to say when the information is classified?”

White House tries to ban the word 'ban,' hours after president uses it himself

"This is not a ban," spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters in a fiery news briefing. (Alex Wong / Getty Images)
"This is not a ban," spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters in a fiery news briefing. (Alex Wong / Getty Images)

President Trump used the word "ban" in a tweet as recently as Monday to describe his new executive order suspending travel from seven Muslim-majority countries and halting the refugee program for several months.

But facing backlash from many directions, the White House adamantly insisted Tuesday that the word is verboten.

"This is not a ban," White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters in a fiery news briefing. 

"When we use words like 'travel ban,'" he said later, "that misrepresents what it is. It's seven countries previously identified by the Obama administration, where, frankly, we don't get the information that we need for people coming into this country." 

In fact, people from the seven banned countries — Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, Libya — cannot enter the United States under the order. Spicer appeared to be making a renewed effort to distinguish the order from the all-out ban on Muslims entering the country that Trump proposed during the campaign. 

Many around the world see the newest policy as an outgrowth of that proposal.

Trump himself conceded a religious connection when he said in an interview on Friday that he wanted to make it easier for Syrian Christians to enter the country. And former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani told Fox News that the order sprang from a group he formed at Trump's request to create a legal framework that would accomplish the campaign goal of a "Muslim ban."

But amid confusion and worldwide criticism in recent days, the Trump administration has tried to temper some of the more incendiary rhetoric around the proposal.

Even the words "extreme vetting," a favorite Trump slogan, were called into question by Spicer on Tuesday.

"Calling for tougher vetting [of] individual travelers from seven nations is not extreme," he said. "It is reasonable and necessary to protect our country."

But changing the ban branding around the program at this point will be difficult. Here's Trump's tweet from Monday:

And Spicer himself used the term ban as recently as Sunday:

ImmigrationWhite House

Trump administration signals that some temporary bans on entry into the U.S. could become permanent

The Trump administration doubled down Tuesday on its commitment to transforming the nation’s border law enforcement, signaling that some of the temporary bans on travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries are likely to be made permanent and elevating a deportations official to run the top immigration enforcement agency.

Administration officials, led by newly sworn-in Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, moved to allay the havoc that marked the roll-out of the ban and another on refugees. They briefed reporters and planned to head to Capitol Hill later today in an apparent effort to smooth relations after reports that lawmakers and other stakeholders were left out of the crafting of the executive order on toughened vetting at border entry points.

In a news conference, Kelly and other top Homeland Security officials conceded some problems, including poor communication. But they insisted that all court orders were followed over the weekend, rebutted reports that some legal residents were denied access to attorneys at airports and said they everyone detained by border agents was treated with "dignity and respect."

“The vast majority of the 1.7 billion Muslims that live on this planet, the vast majority of them have, all other things being equal, have access to the United States,” Kelly told reporters. “And a relatively small number right now are being held up for a period of time until we can take a look at what their procedures are,” he said, seeming to acknowledge that mostly Muslims have been affected by the ban.

The moves signaled that the White House remained committed to remaking border law enforcement even in the face of widespread confusion and condemnation of President Trump’s order.

Kelly said for the first time that the some of the restrictions that caused confusion and sparked protests over the weekend could be extended well into the future.

"Some of those countries that are currently on the list may not be taken off the list anytime soon," he said.

Trump also named a longtime deportation officer, Thomas D. Homan, as acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

Homan, who will oversee the execution of Trump’s immigration enforcement order, was most recently in charge of the agency’s 5,000 deportation officers, a force Trump said he would triple to 15,000.

Trump's orders put a greater emphasis on deporting not only those convicted of crimes, but also people in the country illegally who were charged with crimes not yet adjudicated, those who receive an improper welfare benefit and even those who have not been charged but are believed to have committed "acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense."

Congress

Senate confirms Elaine Chao as secretary of Transportation

Elaine Chao testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee on Jan. 11, 2017. (Zach Gibson / AP)
Elaine Chao testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee on Jan. 11, 2017. (Zach Gibson / AP)

The Senate has confirmed Elaine Chao to serve as Transportation secretary in the Trump administration. The vote was 93 to 6 on Tuesday. 

Chao is an experienced Washington hand. She was Labor secretary under President George W. Bush and is the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Chao would be a lead actor in pursuing Trump's promise to invest $1 trillion to improve highways, rail service and other infrastructure projects. 

Speaker Paul Ryan defends Trump's immigrant and refugee ban, as Congress grumbles about being left out

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan on Tuesday stood by President Trump's temporary ban on refugees and citizens from seven Muslim-majority nations and indicated that he was confident the administration could fix the "confusing" rollout without action from Congress.

"What is happening is something we support," said Ryan, whose office was the target of a sit-in by protesters opposed to Trump's order. "We need to pause and we need to make sure that the vetting standards are up to snuff so we can guarantee the safety and security of our country."

Congress was blindsided by Trump's executive action -- Ryan learned about it as the public did when the White House announced it Friday afternoon. Many GOP lawmakers have raised concerns.

During a private meeting in the Capitol basement Tuesday, Republican lawmakers were counseled on how to handle protesters and office sit-ins happening across the country.

"It’s regrettable that there was some confusion on the rollout of this," Ryan said. "No one wanted to see people with green cards or special immigrant visas, like translators, get caught up in all of this."

Ryan also said he was concerned the ban could be used as propaganda by terrorist groups. 

"The rhetoric surrounding this could be used as a recruiting tool, and I think that's dangerous," he said. 

Still, Republicans leaders as well as rank-and-file GOP lawmakers largely agreed with the president's move to halt refugee admissions for 120 days, and to temporarily ban citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries, unless they are Christians or other religious minorities.

"The president was well within his right to issue an executive order," said Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), chairman of the House Rules Committee. 

"Do I feel let out? I feel like everybody was left out," he said. "I wish they communicated it. I wish they had gotten more information to people. I wish they had measured three times and sawed once."

Lawmakers have shown little appetite for Congress to get involved, and suggested the chaos that erupted at airports over the weekend was just part of a learning curve at the White House.

“I support the thrust of the executive order," said Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.), who nevertheless said the administration should have been better prepared and will need to "get your act together."

Last year, Ryan had strongly condemned Trump's campaign-trail call for a Muslim ban. 

In recent days, Ryan, like other congressional leaders, was forced to dial up the administration with his questions and concerns about the order, conferring Monday with Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly.

"I am very pleased and confident that he is, on a going-forward basis, going to make sure that things are done correctly," Ryan said.

Pressed on whether Congress would have a role, Ryan did not indicate any immediate legislative action.

CongressWhite House

Democrats boycott Senate committee votes on Price, Mnuchin

Senate Democrats speak with reporters after boycotting Finance Committee confirmation votes. (JIM WATSON / AFP/Getty Images)
Senate Democrats speak with reporters after boycotting Finance Committee confirmation votes. (JIM WATSON / AFP/Getty Images)

Senate Democrats on Tuesday boycotted a committee vote on two of President Trump's top Cabinet nominees -- Tom Price to lead Health and Human Services and Steve Mnuchin to be Treasury secretary.

Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) blasted the Democratic move as he sat in a hearing room with only Republicans on the dais.

"They ought to be embarrassed. It's the most pathetic treatment I’ve seen in my 40 years in the United States Senate," Hatch said.

"I think they should stop posturing and acting like idiots," he said.

At least one Democrat needs to be present for the committee to vote on the nominations, Hatch said. He recessed the hearing until further notice, saying he hoped a vote could take place later Tuesday.

But asked mid-afternoon if he thought the committee would be able to meet Tuesday, Hatch said it "doesn't look like it."

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the committee's top Democrat, said Price and Mnuchin "have misled the public and held back important information about their backgrounds."

"Until questions are answered, Democrats believe the committee should not move forward with either nomination," Wyden said. 

"This is about getting answers to questions, plain and simple," he said. "Ethics laws are not optional, and nominees do not have a right to treat disclosure like a shell game.”

 

Liberal groups cheered the boycott while Senate Republican leaders decried it as Democratic obstructionism.

"They are manufacturing issues on a daily basis to drag this process out," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kent.) said of the confirmations of Trump's nominees.

"I don't see how they can explain to the American people how it is appropriate to prevent the administration from getting up and getting started," he said.

Democrats have said Mnuchin, a wealthy Wall Street executive, misled the committee in his response to a written question about foreclosures at Pasadena’s OneWest Bank while he ran it from 2009-15.

Democrats pointed to a report Sunday by the Columbus Dispatch that Mnuchin denied that OneWest engaged in so-called robo-signing of mortgage documents.

The paper said its analysis of nearly four dozen foreclosure cases in Ohio’s Franklin County in 2010 showed that the bank “frequently used robo-signers.”

The Columbus Dispatch cited a foreclosure involving a mortgage signed by Erica Johnson-Seck, a OneWest vice president who said in a deposition in a 2009 Florida case that she signed an average of 750 documents a week.

Barney Keller, a spokesman for Mnuchin, said Monday that several courts had dismissed cases involving allegations of robo-signing by Johnson-Seck.

“The media is picking on a hardworking bank employee whose reputation has been maligned but whose work has been upheld by numerous courts all around the country in the face of scurrilous and false allegations," Keller said.

Democrats also have problems with Price, a six-term congressman and former orthopedic surgeon who has distinguished himself in conservative circles for his staunch opposition to the Affordable Care Act and his plans to slash federal healthcare spending.

His nomination has become among Trump’s most controversial, in part because of his hostility to government safety net programs, including Medicaid and Medicare.

Democrats have also been increasingly critical of Price’s extensive trading in healthcare stocks while he has been in Congress, and in some cases while he has pushed legislation that would benefit his portfolio.

Price has denied any wrongdoing.

Also drawing criticism is Price’s purchase of discounted shares in an Australian biotech firm, Innate Immunotherapeutics, which he was offered through a private deal not available to general shareholders.

Price also denied that this was improper, and Senate Republicans have rallied to his side, saying he did not violate any ethics rules.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said he and the other Democrats on the committee want Mnuchin and Price to explain their "lies" either in person before the committee or in new written answers.

"I want them to disclose this information that they seem not to want to disclose," Brown said.

12:10 p.m.: This post was updated with additional comments from Hatch as well as from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Sherrod Brown.

8:00 a.m.: This post has been updated with additional information and background.

8:07 a.m.: This post has been updated with additional information.

ImmigrationWhite House

White House aides who wrote Trump's travel ban see it as just the start

 (Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press)
(Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press)

Even as confusion, internal dissent and widespread condemnation greeted President Trump’s travel ban and crackdown on refugees this weekend, senior White House aides say they are only getting started.

Trump and his aides justified Friday’s executive order, which blocked travel from seven majority-Muslim countries for 90 days and halted refugees from around the world for 120, on security grounds — an issue that they say they take seriously. But their ultimate goal is far broader.

Trump’s top advisors on immigration, including chief strategist Steve Bannon and senior advisor Stephen Miller, see themselves as launching a radical experiment to fundamentally transform how the U.S. decides who is allowed into the country and to block a generation of people who, in their view, won’t assimilate into American society.

That project may live or die in the next three months, as the Trump administration reviews whether and how to expand the visa ban and alter vetting procedures. White House aides are considering new, onerous security checks that could effectively limit travel into the U.S. by people from majority-Muslim countries to a trickle.

Why corporations can't risk keeping silent about Trump's immigration ban

Starbucks Chief Executive Howard Schultz said the Seattle coffee company is developing plans to hire 10,000 refugees over the next five years. (Richard Drew / Associated Press)
Starbucks Chief Executive Howard Schultz said the Seattle coffee company is developing plans to hire 10,000 refugees over the next five years. (Richard Drew / Associated Press)

Corporate America generally prefers to stay quiet about partisan politics. Pick one side of a hot-button issue, the thinking goes, and you'll risk losing customers on the other side.

But like so many norms before it, President Trump has turned this one on its head.

A growing number of companies are deciding it's a bigger risk to their investors and bottom line to stay quiet than it is to protest Trump's ban on refugees and travel from seven Muslim-majority nations, betting vocal opposition to the executive order scores them a moral and fiscal victory.

While it was possible for companies to take a wait-and-see approach leading up to Trump’s inauguration, many firms can no longer ignore the White House’s policy given the effect the order is already having on employees either stranded or fearful of traveling. 

Only a week ago it seemed foolish to speak out against a president who has admonished individual companies on social media such as Carrier, Boeing and General Motors. Now the pendulum has swung the other way. Companies, mostly in technology but increasingly in other sectors, have decided that it’s not enough just to speak out against the immigration order.  They believe that they must also take headline-grabbing action.

White House

Op-Ed: Trump is taking the Bannon Way, and it will end in disaster

President Trump with chief strategist Steve Bannon, right, and National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, center, in the Oval Office. (Alex Brandon / Associated Pres)
President Trump with chief strategist Steve Bannon, right, and National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, center, in the Oval Office. (Alex Brandon / Associated Pres)

Bannon has said he’s a 'Leninist' but he’s really more of a Trotskyist because he fancies himself the leader of an international populist-nationalist right wing movement, exporting anti-'globalist' revolution. In that role, his status as an enabler of Trump’s instinct to shoot — or tweet — from the hip seems especially ominous.

The Bannon way might work on the campaign trail, but it doesn’t translate into good governance. It’s possible — and one must hope — that Trump can learn this fact on the job. 

But what if he doesn’t? He could put the country in serious peril.

Jonah Goldberg

Watch live: Senate committee vote on attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions

Trump will leave LGBTQ protections in place

 (Evan Vucci / Associated Press)
(Evan Vucci / Associated Press)

The White House says President Trump will leave intact a 2014 executive order that protects federal workers from anti-LGBTQ discrimination.

In a statement released early Tuesday, the White House said Trump "is determined to protect the rights of all Americans, including the LGBTQ community" and that he "continues to be respectful and supportive of LGBTQ rights, just as he was throughout the election."

The Trump administration has vowed to roll back much of President Obama's work from the last eight years and had been scrutinizing the 2014 order. The directive protects people from LGBTQ discrimination while working for federal contractors.

The recent statement says the protections will remain intact "at the direction" of Trump.

Here is the text of Obama's executive order, signed on July 21, 2014:

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, including 40 U.S.C. 121, and in order to provide for a uniform policy for the Federal Government to prohibit discrimination and take further steps to promote economy and efficiency in Federal Government procurement by prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, it is hereby ordered as follows:

Section 1. Amending Executive Order 11478. The first sentence of section 1 of Executive Order 11478 of August 8, 1969, as amended, is revised by substituting "sexual orientation, gender identity" for "sexual orientation".

Sec. 2. Amending Executive Order 11246. Executive Order 11246 of September 24, 1965, as amended, is hereby further amended as follows:

(a) The first sentence of numbered paragraph (1) of section 202 is revised by substituting "sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or national origin" for "sex, or national origin".

(b) The second sentence of numbered paragraph (1) of section 202 is revised by substituting "sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or national origin" for "sex or national origin".

(c) Numbered paragraph (2) of section 202 is revised by substituting "sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or national origin" for "sex or national origin".

(d) Paragraph (d) of section 203 is revised by substituting "sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or national origin" for "sex or national origin".

Sec. 3. Regulations. Within 90 days of the date of this order, the Secretary of Labor shall prepare regulations to implement the requirements of section 2 of this order.

Sec. 4. General Provisions. (a) Nothing in this order shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect:

(i) the authority granted by law to an agency or the head thereof; or

(ii) the functions of the Director of the Office of Management and Budget relating to budgetary, administrative, or legislative proposals.

(b) This order is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.Sec. 5. Effective Date. This order shall become effective immediately, and section 2 of this order shall apply to contracts entered into on or after the effective date of the rules promulgated by the Department of Labor under section 3 of this order.

Update

6:45 a.m.: This article was updated with the text of the 2014 executive order.

White House

Trump aims for Democrats after firing acting attorney general

White House

Why people are calling the acting attorney general's firing the 'Monday Night Massacre'

On Monday evening, the White House released a statement saying acting Atty. Gen. Sally Yates had been fired for instructing Justice Department lawyers not to defend President Trump's travel ban.

Yates has "betrayed the Department of Justice by refusing to enforce a legal order designed to protect the citizens of the United States," the White House said.

"Monday Night Massacre" was trending on Twitter within the hour.

The front page of the Los Angeles Times the morning after the "Saturday Night Massacre." (Los Angeles Times archives)
The front page of the Los Angeles Times the morning after the "Saturday Night Massacre." (Los Angeles Times archives)

In 1973, President Nixon ordered the firing of special prosecutor Archibald Cox because he wouldn't obey Nixon's order to stop looking into Watergate. Two of the Justice Department's top leaders resigned in protest rather than following Nixon's directive to fire Cox. It became known as the "Saturday Night Massacre," an instance of the president using his power to punish political enemies within the Justice Department.

Though the Justice Department is part of the executive branch, it is traditionally largely independent from the office of the president in order to ensure the integrity of law enforcement and its investigations.

 (Steve Brodner / For The Times)
(Steve Brodner / For The Times)
White House

Trump fires Justice Department's top official after she refuses to defend his refugee ban

Sally Yates. (J. David Ake / Associated Press)
Sally Yates. (J. David Ake / Associated Press)

President Trump fired acting Atty. Gen. Sally Yates on Monday, just hours after she announced that the department would not defend his controversial executive order banning refugees and travelers from certain countries.

Yates has "betrayed the Department of Justice by refusing to enforce a legal order designed to protect the citizens of the United States," the White House said in a statement. "It is time to get serious about protecting our country."

The move came after Yates sent a letter to Justice Department lawyers saying that she questioned the lawfulness of Trump's executive order.

"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 wrote.

"At present, 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," she wrote. "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 was a holdover from the Obama administration. But because Trump's nominee for attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions, has not been confirmed and no other senior Justice Department officials have been appointed, firing her was expected to cause significant problems within the department.

Acting Atty. Gen. Dana J. Boente. (Department of Justice)
Acting Atty. Gen. Dana J. Boente. (Department of Justice)

Among other issues, Yates is the only person in the department currently authorized to sign warrants for wiretapping in foreign espionage cases involving the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

Trump replaced Yates with Dana J. Boente, a three-decade veteran of the Justice Department who was appointed in 2015 by former President Obama as U.S. attorney for the eastern district of Virginia.

6:37 p.m.: The story was updated with Trump's decision to fire Yates.

U.S. service member killed in Yemen identified as Navy SEAL from Illinois

A Navy SEAL from the Virginia-based elite unit known as SEAL Team 6 was killed Sunday during an unusual nighttime raid that put U.S. troops on the ground against Al Qaeda leaders in the middle of war-torn Yemen.

The fallen sailor was identified Monday as Chief Special Warfare Operator William "Ryan" Owens, 36, of Peoria, Ill..

Three other Americans were wounded in the raid and an MV-22 Osprey had to be destroyed after the aircraft suffered a “hard landing” and couldn’t fly. Another U.S. service member was injured in that crash.

The raid marked the first known counter-terrorism operation and first confirmed combat fatality under President Trump.

Steele writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

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