FILE - In this June 28, 2016 file photo, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates speaks during a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington. The Justice Department says it’s phasing out its relationships with private prisons after a recent audit found the private facilities have more safety and security problems than ones run by the government. Yates instructed federal officials to significantly reduce reliance on private prisons. (AP Photo/J. David Ake, File)
“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.
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.
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.
Bill Rankin has been an AJC reporter for more than 30 years. His father, Jim Rankin, worked as an editor for the newspaper for 26 years, retiring in 1986. Bill has primarily covered the state’s court system, doing all he can do to keep the scales of justice on an even keel. Since 2015, he has been the host of the newspaper’s Breakdown podcast.