US President Donald Trump has sacked the country’s acting attorney general after she took the rare step of defying the White House by refusing to enforce his sweeping immigration ban.
Sally Yates had early on Monday ordered Department of Justice lawyers to stop defending Trump’s executive order, resulting in her dismissal just hours later.
“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,” the White House press secretary’s office said in an unusually caustic statement.
“Ms Yates is an Obama Administration appointee who is weak on borders and very weak on illegal immigration.”
Yates had agreed to serve in an acting capacity until Senator Jeff Sessions, Trump’s pick for US attorney general, was confirmed by the Senate. The White House said that Dana Boente, US attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, would now be acting US attorney general until Sessions is approved.
Boente said in an interview with the Washington Post that he would enforce the immigration order.
Political analyst Michael Shure told Al Jazeera that the incident could prove a “stumbling block” for Sessions’ confirmation, with Democrats and some Republicans now expressing opposition to the ban.
“Many people I spoke to are saying it is ‘foolish’. Why didn’t Trump wait, if he believed in this executive order so much, until he had his team in place? Will that affect the nominating process for the attorney general? Could it hurt his nominee? That remains to be seen,” Shure said.
The decision came as Trump pressed into his second week in office, defending his sweeping immigration ban in what has become a quickly escalating political crisis
Trump’s order suspends the US refugee programme for 120 days and bars all immigration for citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for at least 90 days. The intake of refugees from Syria – ravaged by a brutal war in which some estimates say 400,000 people have been killed – has been suspended indefinitely.