President Trump fired his acting attorney general on Monday night after she defiantly refused to defend his executive order that has closed the nation’s borders to refugees and people from predominantly Muslim countries.
The president declared in a statement that Sally Q. Yates, who had served as deputy attorney general under President Barack Obama, had betrayed the Department of Justice by announcing that Justice Department lawyers would not defend Mr. Trump’s order against legal challenges.
Mr. Trump replaced Ms. Yates with Dana J. Boente, the United States attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, saying that he would serve as the nation’s top law enforcement officer until Congress acts to confirm Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama as attorney general.
White House officials said that Mr. Boente was sworn in at 9 p.m., but did not provide details about who performed the ceremony. In a statement, Mr. Boente pledged to “defend and enforce the laws of our country.” In the statement, White House officials lashed out at Ms. Yates.
“Ms. Yates is an Obama administration appointee who is weak on borders and very weak on illegal immigration,” Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, said in a statement issued at 9:17 p.m.
Mr. Trump and his senior aides had huddled together in the West Wing for several hours after Ms. Yates publicly confronted the president with a stinging challenge to his authority and laid 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.
In a fiery response, the White House accused Ms. Yates of failing to fulfill her duty to defend a “legal order designed to protect the citizens of the United States” that had been approved by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel.
“It is time to get serious about protecting our country,” Mr. Spicer said, accusing Democrats of holding up the confirmation of Mr. Sessions for political reasons. “Calling for tougher vetting for individuals travelling from seven dangerous places is not extreme. It is reasonable and necessary to protect our country.”