FILE: JANUARY 30, 2017: According to reports, acting Attorney General Sally Q. Yates has ordered the Justice Department not to defend President Donald Trump...
Pete Marovich

History in the making: Donald Trump fires acting Attorney General

The Rachel Maddow Show, 1/30/17, 9:36 PM ET

Trump AG firing recalls Nixon's Saturday Night Massacre

Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian, talks with Rachel Maddow about the historical parallels of Donald Trump firing acting Attorney General Sally Yates for defying him on his travel ban order.
The last time a president fired someone in the attorney general’s office, it was Richard Nixon executing the infamous “Saturday Night Massacre” at the height of the Watergate scandal. Last night, it happened again.
President Donald Trump fired Acting Attorney General Sally Yates on Monday night after she directed Justice Department lawyers not to defend his executive order on immigration.

The Trump administration said it had “relieved” Yates – who was deputy attorney general in the administration of President Barack Obama and stayed on as acting attorney general pending the confirmation of Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama – and named Dana Boente, 63, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, to serve in the meantime.
Yates’ directive, announced late yesterday afternoon, has been rescinded, and the Justice Department will defend Trump’s Muslim ban. It’s a remarkable turn of events in an administration that already appears to be facing crisis conditions after 11 days in office.

Yates, who was specifically chosen by the Trump White House to serve as acting A.G., said she simply wasn’t convinced the president’s executive order was legally permissible. In theory, West Wing officials could’ve tried to persuade her with compelling arguments, but instead Trump fired her, issuing a poorly written statement describing Yates as “weak on borders and very weak on illegal immigration” and someone who “betrayed the Department of Justice.”

As Rachel noted on last night’s show, the dramatic developments bring to mind a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing from March 2015, when Yates was under consideration for deputy attorney general. At the time, none other than Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), now Trump’s nominee to be attorney general, reminded Yates that she’ll have to be prepared to stand up to the White House should a president urge her to do something she considers unlawful. From the transcript:
SESSIONS: Well. you have to watch out, because people will be asking you to do things you just need to say ‘no’ about. Do you think the attorney general has a responsibility to say no to the president if he asks for something that’s improper? [„,] If the views the president wants to execute are unlawful, should the attorney general or the deputy attorney general say no?

YATES: Senator, I believe the attorney general or the deputy attorney general has an obligation to follow the law and the Constitution, and to give their independent legal advice to the president.
Two years later, Yates did as she promised. For her trouble, Donald Trump fired her and accused her of “betraying” the Justice Department.

History will remember only one of them kindly.


Donald Trump, Justice Department and Scandals

History in the making: Donald Trump fires acting Attorney General