Repeated comments from President Trump and his advisers about barring Muslims from entering the United States were at the heart of the decision on Monday by the acting attorney general, Sally Q. Yates, to refuse to defend the president’s executive order on immigration, senior officials involved said. Within hours of alerting Justice Department lawyers of her decision, the White House summarily fired her late Monday night.
The firing capped three days of internal deliberations at the Justice Department. Like many others in the government, Ms. Yates, a holdover from the Obama administration, was caught by surprise Friday night by Mr. Trump’s executive order temporarily halting all refugees from entering the country and indefinitely blocking immigration or visits from seven Muslim countries.
The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel had reviewed the order and signed off on its legality. But Ms. Yates and her staff lawyers believed that the department had to consider the intent of the order, which she said appeared designed to single out people based on religion.
Mr. Trump had campaigned on a promise to single out Muslims for immigration restrictions. One of his advisers, Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, said in an interview that Mr. Trump wanted a Muslim ban but needed “the right way to do it legally.” Mr. Trump said in a later interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network that Christian refugees would be given priority for entry visas to the United States.
So on Monday evening, she issued a stinging rebuke of the president and ordered government lawyers not to defend the ban in court, where it is being contested.
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