Sally Quillian Yates, fired Monday night as acting attorney general after she defied President Donald Trump, grew up in Atlanta and was a federal prosecutor here for 25 years before she joined the Obama administration in Washington.
Yates received a hand-delivered notice of her dismissal at 9:15 p.m. Monday, the New York Times reported. The firing was the climax of an extraordinary day in which Yates, acting as the nation’s top law enforcement officer, instructed the Justice Department not to defend Trump’s executive order banning refugees from entry into the United States.
“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 in a letter to the department’s lawyers, according to the Times.
The Trump administration lashed out at Yates immediately after her firing, saying she had “betrayed the Department of Justice.”
“Ms. Yates is an Obama administration appointee who is weak on borders and very weak on illegal immigration,” said a statement issued by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer.
In her 2015 confirmation hearing as deputy attorney general (1:16:00 on C-SPAN tape), Yates was confronted with this question from Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, who is now Trump’s nominee to become attorney general: "Do you think the attorney general has a responsibility to say no to the president if he asks for something that's improper?"
Yates replied: “Senator, I believe that 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."
Yates made a name for herself as a prosecutor in the early 1990s when she shook up City Hall by indicting a number of high-profile defendants in an airport corruption and bribery scandal. After a lengthy investigation and trial, Yates obtained convictions against a number of city officials, including former City Councilman D.L. "Buddy" Fowlkes and former Aviation Commissioner Ira Jackson.
Yates, 56, grew up in Atlanta and received her undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Georgia. Her father Kelley Quillian, served as a judge on the Georgia Court of Appeals until he retired in 1985.
In the U.S. Attorney’s Office here, Yates was promoted in 1994 to oversee fraud and public corruption prosecutions and oversaw a number of notable cases. Among those she successfully prosecuted: former Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell, former Fulton County Commission Chairman Mitch Skandalakis and former state school Superintendent Linda Schrenko.
Later, Yates served as lead prosecutor in the case against Centennial Olympic Park bomber Eric Robert Rudolph.
She later served as U.S. attorney in Atlanta.
President Barack Obama nominated Yates to be deputy U.S. attorney general in January 2015 and the Senate confirmed her five months later. She became acting U.S. attorney general when Loretta Lynch resigned from the post on Inauguration Day.
Late Monday, Yates was replaced in her acting position by Dana J. Boente, a U.S. attorney in Virginia, whose first act was to rescind Yates’s order to the Justice Department.
Yates’s appointment as acting attorney general would not have lasted much longer in any case. A confirmation vote for Trump’s nominee for the job, Senator Sessions, is expected Tuesday in the Senate Judiciary Committee.