Jan 31, 2017 (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump fired top federal government lawyer Sally Yates on Monday after she took the extraordinarily rare step of defying the White House and refused to defend new travel restrictions targeting seven Muslim-majority nations.
It was another dramatic twist in the unusually raucous roll-out of Trump’s directive that put a 120-day hold on allowing refugees into the country, an indefinite ban on refugees from Syria and a 90-day bar on citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
The Friday night ban prompted protests and chaos at airports on the weekend as customs officials struggled to put the order into practise, and the fallout spread to U.S. markets on Monday, where stocks suffered their biggest drop of 2017 and companies affected by the change spoke out against it.
Yates said late on Monday that the Justice Department would not defend the order against court challenges, saying that she did not believe it would be “consistent with this institution’s solemn obligation to always seek justice and stand for what is right.”
Hours later, she was fired. The White House said Yates “has betrayed the Department of Justice by refusing to enforce a legal order designed to protect the citizens of the United States” and portrayed her actions as political.
Trump has argued tougher vetting of immigrants is needed to protect America from terror attacks but critics complain that his order unfairly singles out Muslims and defiles America’s historic reputation as a welcoming place for immigrants.
Yates, an appointee of former Democratic President Barack Obama, was days away from being replaced by Trump’s pick for the top spot at the Justice Department, Republican Senator Jeff Sessions, who is awaiting Senate confirmation.
“Ms. Yates is an Obama Administration appointee who is weak on borders and very weak on illegal immigration,” the White House said in a statement.
The White House said that Dana Boente, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, was sworn in at 9 p.m. ET and would be acting U.S. attorney general until Sessions is approved.
Boente said in an interview with the Washington Post that he would enforce the immigration order.
TECH BACKING FOR COURT CHALLENGES
Federal judges blocked deportation of those detained under the order through the weekend, and more lawsuits were filed on Monday.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, the country’s biggest Muslim advocacy group, filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of more than 20 people.
Washington state filed a lawsuit, arguing that Trump’s order violates the equal protection clause and the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Several other Democratic state attorneys general have said they are considering legal action.
“It is an insult and a danger to all of the people of the state of Washington, of all faiths,” Washington state Governor Jay Inslee, a Democrat, told reporters.
Amazon.com Inc and Expedia Inc, both of which are based in Washington state’s Seattle area, are supporting the state’s suit.
Amazon scrapped a business trip for a senior company lawyer who was born in Libya but has UK citizenship, according to a declaration filed in support of the lawsuit. Forty-nine of its employees were born in one of the banned countries, and seven new hires may need to be placed in offices outside the United States, it said.
A declaration from Expedia said the order could impact the travel itineraries of at least 1,000 customers, costing it refunds as well as expenses to monitor how the order is applied and who exactly is affected.
The U.S. technology industry, a major employer of foreign workers, has been the most vocal corporate opponent to Trump’s order. A group of top companies plans to meet on Tuesday to discuss how best to support legal challenges.