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As Trump fires Obama appointee, ex-US president breaks silence

As former president Barack Obama broke his short-lived silence Monday, an official appointed during his tenure was sacked as acting head of the justice department for instructing her lawyers to not defend President Donald Trump’s travel ban in courts.

world Updated: Feb 01, 2017 01:28 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
Acting attorney general Sally Yates,former president Barack Obama,Saturday Night Massacre of 1973
US Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates was fired by an embattled Donald Trump for refusing to defend his controversial immigration orders. In a caustic statement, Trump's White House said acting attorney general Sally Yates "betrayed" the Department of Justice in defying the president and had been relieved of her duties with immediate effect. (AFP File)

As former president Barack Obama broke his short-lived silenceon Monday, an official appointed during his tenure was sacked as acting head of the justice department for instructing her lawyers to not defend President Donald Trump’s travel ban in courts.

Acting attorney general Sally Yates was dismissed on Monday night. A statement from the White House said, by way of explanation, “Ms. Yates is an Obama administration appointee who is weak on borders and very weak on illegal immigration.”

The dismissal was compared by some commentators to the Saturday Night Massacre of 1973 when then president Richard Nixon fired his top two justice department officials for not sacking the special prosecutor investigating the Watergate case.

Obama had earlier in the day pushed back, through a spokesman, any suggestion that these bans could be traced to any measure or step taken during his term.

But Yates was not the Trump administration’s only problem from the inside. Officials of the state department were reportedly signing a dissent note arguing the travel ban could imperil relations with governments of targeted countries. “These career bureaucrats have a problem with it?” Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary told reporters. “They should either get with the programme or they can go.”

Protestors, meanwhile, continued to target international airports, raising slogans and cheering passengers who looked like citizens of those Muslim-majority countries — Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan and Libya — affected by the travel restrictions,

But despite these protests and mounting legal challenges to the order — the Council on American-Islamic Relations filed one on Monday — the president was not backing down and he and his aides fought back with a mix of bravado and falsehood.

But first the order, as details could become blurred in confrontations such as this. In an executive order signed Friday, Trump banned citizens of the seven countries mentioned above from entering the US for 90 days.

He also banned the entry, in the same order, of all refugees for 120 days, from anywhere in the world — but indefinitely for those from Syria, a country torn apart by a civil war depicted in heart-rending social media posts by seven-year-old Bana al-Abed.

To deflect blame in the face of all-around outrage, Trump has invoked his predecessor, claiming Obama had also slapped a visa ban on Iraqis and his administration had identified seven countries as sources of terror, the same seven he has blacklisted.

Obama, who was expected to fade away but had warned he would speak up if he ever found what he described as the country’s fundamental values being threatened, spoke up on Monday, just about 10 days into retirement.

“With regard to comparisons to President Obama's foreign policy decisions, as we've heard before, the President fundamentally disagrees with the notion of discriminating against individuals because of their faith or religion,” a spokesman of the former president said in a statement.

Trump has claimed his travel restrictions had nothing to do with religion, but is actually struggling to have it not be defined as a “Muslim ban”, which is what it is. He just doesn’t know how to deal with it, or couch it in friendlier terms.

First Published: Jan 31, 2017 21:18 IST