Trump fired Acting Attorney General Sally Yates this evening–as the President has the right to do–and issued a statement:
The acting Attorney General, Sally Yates, has betrayed the Department of Justice by refusing to enforce a legal order designed to protect the citizens of the United States. This order was approved as to form and legality by the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel.
Ms. Yates is an Obama Administration appointee who is weak on borders and very weak on illegal immigration.
It is time to get serious about protecting our country. Calling for tougher vetting for individuals travelling from seven dangerous places is not extreme. It is reasonable and necessary to protect our country.
Tonight, President Trump relieved Ms. Yates of her duties and subsequently named Dana Boente, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, to serve as Acting Attorney General until Senator Jeff Sessions is finally confirmed by the Senate, where he is being wrongly held up by Democrat senators for strictly political reasons.
“I am honored to serve President Trump in this role until Senator Sessions is confirmed. I will defend and enforce the laws of our country to ensure that our people and our nation are protected,” said Dana Boente, Acting Attorney General.
In appointing Dana Boente, Trump exercised authority under the Federal Vacancies Act Reform Act of 1998, 5 U.S.C. 3345. In so doing, he (quite legally) bypassed the default line of succession otherwise provided for in Executive Order 13762 (Jan. 13, 2017) signed by President Obama, which had the next three people eligible to be acting AG as (a) United States Attorney for the District of Columbia; (b) United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois; and (c) United States Attorney for the Central District of California.
Yates had angered Trump by instructing Justice Department lawyers not to defend his executive order banning travel for people from seven Muslim-majority countries. Various parts of the order have already been enjoined by district courts around the country. Presumably the Trump people shopped for someone willing to overturn Sally Yates’s order, and found one: New acting attorney general says he will enforce order.
Dana Boene was sworn in this evening in order to ensure that there would be someone with legal authority to sign foreign surveillance warrants.
[edited shortly after publication for clarity]
Update1: Spencer Ackerman says it is unclear if the new acting attorney general can sign national security surveillance requests.
Update2: Josh Blackman makes two interesting points. First, one might theoretically question whether firing is a qualifying reason under the Vacancies Act that the incumbent is “otherwise unable to perform the functions and duties of the office” and, more significantly, (2) this action might have precedential value if and when Trump fires and replaces Richard Cordray.