UPDATE: The Washington Post analyzes the nasty and hamhanded way Yates was fired.
If you were already sentient on October 20, 1973, you’ll remember (as I do) the famous “Saturday Night Massacre” perpetrated by Richard Nixon. On that day, Nixon fired Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox, who, appointed to investigate the Watergate affair, had issued a subpoena for the White House tapes. Nixon refused to comply, offering an unsatisfactory compromise. When Cox wouldn’t accept that, Nixon ordered Attorney General Eliot Richardson to fire Cox. Richardson refused to comply and then resigned. Nixon then ordered Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus to fire Cox. Ruckelshaus also refused and followed Richardson out the door. Finally, Nixon got his flack Robert Bork to do the firing. It was a shameful moment in American government. (I remember riding the Red Line to Harvard Station a few years after Richardson resigned, and found myself in the same subway car with him, amazed that he’d ride the T with the other plebeians. He was unmistakable: a very handsome man. I went up to him and told him I was a fan.)
Something like the Saturday Night Massacre happened last night. Sally Q. Yates, the Deputy Attorney General appointed by Obama, has been the acting Attorney General—the highest law enforcement official in the U.S.—until Trump’s nominee, Jeff Sessions, gets confirmed and takes office. Yesterday, considering Trump’s executive orders on immigration to be illegal, Yates decided that they would not be enforced, and she has the power to make that decision. As the New York Times reports:
By Monday afternoon, Ms. Yates added to a deepening sense of anxiety in the nation’s capital by publicly confronting the president with a stinging challenge to his authority, laying bare a deep divide at the Justice Department, within the diplomatic corps and elsewhere in the government over the wisdom of his order.
“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,” Ms. Yates wrote in a letter to Justice Department lawyers.
That put Trump in a dilemma, since he’d issued an order that, in an almost unprecedented rebuke, his own branch of law enforcement refused to enforce. I guess thinking he was still on “The Apprentice,” Trump summarily fired Yates:
Mr. Trump’s senior aides huddled together in the West Wing to determine what to do.
They decided quickly that her insubordination could not stand, according to an administration official familiar with the deliberations. Among the chief concerns was whether Mr. Sessions could be confirmed quickly by the Senate.
. . . The president replaced Ms. Yates with Dana J. Boente, the United States attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, saying that he would serve as attorney general until Congress acts to confirm Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama. In his first act in his new role, Mr. Boente announced that he was rescinding Ms. Yates’s order.
. . . Mr. Boente has told the White House that he is willing to sign off on Mr. Trump’s executive order on refugees and immigration, according to Joshua Stueve, a spokesman for the United States attorney’s office in Alexandria, Va., where Mr. Boente has served as the top prosecutor since 2015.
. . . Monday’s events have transformed the confirmation of Mr. Sessions into a referendum on Mr. Trump’s immigration order. Action in the Senate could come as early as Tuesday.
Yates, like Richardson, Cox, and Ruckelshaus, is a hero, or rather a martyr to our Constitution. Boente is the equivalent of Bork. What we have now, within only 11 days of Trump’s inauguration, is a Constitutional crisis, and a severe embarrassment to the Trump administration. Nixon never lived down the Saturday Night Massacre, and Yates’s refusal to enforce Trump’s orders shows how dubious they were in the first place. Of course Trump being Trump, he didn’t even consult her or other legal experts to see what they thought.
I am sickened, but it’s only 11 days in. There are 1448 days to go, and that’s if Trump stays for only one term.
Thank Ceiling Cat for principled people like Yates; let us hope that more of them will make themselves known in the coming months.
Here’s the White House’s statement about her firing. It’s unprofessional and unseemly, and brings up irrelevant stuff like the confirmation of Sessions and Yates being “weak on borders” and “illegal immigration::