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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.

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