Tuesday Reads: Monday Night Massacre

Sally Yates, during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee to be Deputy Attorney General at the U.S. Department of Justice. March 24, 2015. Photo by Diego M. Radzinschi/THE NATIONAL LAW JOURNAL.

Sally Yates

Good Morning!!

The last time a U.S. President fired his Attorney General was 44 years ago in what became known as the Saturday Night Massacre. Last night tRump fired acting Attorney General Sally Yates after she announced that the DOJ would not defend tRump’s Muslim ban because she didn’t think it was legal. tRump appointed Dana Boente, US Attorney from the Eastern District of Virginia to replace her until a new Attorney General is confirmed. The New York Times reports:

Mr. Boente, 62, has worked for the Justice Department since 1984 under both Republican and Democratic administrations. He served in the department’s tax division and held several positions in the Eastern District of Virginia. He also served as the United States attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana from December 2012 to September 2013.

In October 2015, Mr. Boente was nominated by President Barack Obama to be the United States attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia and was confirmed by the United States Senate that December.

The district sprawls across a wide swath of the state. It covers six million people and often handles cases that touch on national security because its territory includes facilities like the Pentagon and the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Before joining the Justice Department, Mr. Boente clerked for a chief United States district judge, J. Waldo Ackerman, in the Central District of Illinois in 1982.

Dana Boente

Dana Boente

Boente has been praised by both Democrats and Republicans, including former Attorney General Loretta Lynch; but he has indicated he has no problem defending tRump’s Muslim ban.

Joshua Stueve, a spokesman for the United States attorney’s office in Alexandria, Va., said Mr. Boente had no hesitation about accepting the acting attorney general’s job, given his “seniority and loyalty” to the department.

In an interview with The Washington Post on Monday night, Mr. Boente pointed out that his office had already been defending the president’s executive order against a lawsuit brought in a Virginia federal court.

“I was enforcing it this afternoon,” Mr. Boente told The Post. “Our career department employees were defending the action in court, and I expect that’s what they’ll do tomorrow, appropriately and properly.”

Indeed, shortly before midnight on Monday, Mr. Boente rescinded the guidance Ms. Yates had given department lawyers earlier in the evening and formally ordered them to defend the president’s immigration ban.

If Sally Yates goes down in history as a hero for her refusal to enforce an illegal order, Boente will be remembered in the same breath with Judge Robert Bork, who followed Richard Nixon’s order to fire his Attorney General, Archibald Cox for refusing a presidential order not to continue examining the Nixon White House tapes. We all know how that turned out.

Interestingly, during Yates’ confirmation hearing, current Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions asked her if she would say “no” to President Obama if he asked her to approval an illegal order. Again from The New York Times:

As Republicans seethed over President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration in early 2015, Senator Jeff Sessions sharply questioned Sally Q. Yates about whether she had the independent streak needed to be the Justice Department’s second in command.

Mr. Sessions, Republican of Alabama, wanted to know whether Ms. Yates, a federal prosecutor from Georgia who made her career charging domestic terrorists and white-collar criminals, would be willing to stand up to the president.

“If the views the president wants to execute are unlawful, should the attorney general or the deputy attorney general say no?” Mr. Sessions asked during a confirmation hearing for Ms. Yates.

“I believe the attorney general or deputy attorney general has an obligation to follow the law and Constitution and give their independent legal advice to the president,” Ms. Yates replied.

Read more about Yates’ career and background at the above link.

thomas-homan

tRump capped off the night by firing the acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), without any explanation. Huffington Post:

In a statement released late Monday evening, the newly confirmed DHS secretary, John Kelly, announced that Thomas Homan had been named the new acting director of ICE. The statement did not mention Daniel Ragsdale, who was being replaced. (Ragsdale resumes his role as deputy director, according to an ICE official.) ….

By promoting Homan, who most recently led the arm of ICE that enforces detentions and deportations, the Trump administration signaled its intent to place a greater emphasis on the harsh enforcement measures that Homan carried out.

As the associate director of ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO), Homan “led ICE’s efforts to identify, arrest, detain, and remove illegal aliens, including those who present a danger to national security or are a risk to public safety, as well as those who enter the United States illegally or otherwise undermine the integrity of our immigration laws and our border control efforts,” the DHS statement read.

Homan’s appointment also raises the possibility that Trump might attempt to carry out a campaign promise to deport many of the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States. The Trump administration previously said that it will initially focus deportation efforts on immigrants convicted of violent crimes.

The White House continues to leak like a sieve, and yesterday and today there have been revelations galore about the infighting among tRump’s inner circle.

Jeff Sessions

Jeff Sessions

The Washington Post yesterday: Trump’s hard-line actions have an intellectual godfather: Jeff Sessions.

In jagged black strokes, President Trump’s signature was scribbled onto a catalogue of executive orders over the past 10 days that translated the hard-line promises of his campaign into the policies of his government.

The directives bore Trump’s name, but another man’s fingerprints were also on nearly all of them: Jeff Sessions.

The early days of the Trump presidency have rushed a nationalist agenda long on the fringes of American life into action — and Sessions, the quiet Alabam­ian who long cultivated those ideas as a Senate backbencher, has become a singular power in this new Washington.

Sessions’s ideology is driven by a visceral aversion to what he calls “soulless globalism,” a term used on the extreme right to convey a perceived threat to the United States from free trade, international alliances and the immigration of nonwhites.

And despite many reservations among Republicans about that worldview, Sessions — whose 1986 nomination for a federal judgeship was doomed by accusations of racism that he denied — is finding little resistance in Congress to his proposed role as Trump’s attorney general.

We’ll soon see. Sessions is currently being roasted by Democrats in his latest confirmation hearing.

steve-bannon

Also yesterday, The New York Times reported on the appointment of Steve Bannon as a permanent member of the National Security Council and the apparent sidelining of top tRump adviser Michael Flynn. The article is loaded with leaks about Flynn.

…the defining moment for Mr. Bannon came Saturday night in the form of an executive order giving the rumpled right-wing agitator a full seat on the “principals committee” of the National Security Council — while downgrading the roles of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of national intelligence, who will now attend only when the council is considering issues in their direct areas of responsibilities. It is a startling elevation of a political adviser, to a status alongside the secretaries of state and defense, and over the president’s top military and intelligence advisers.

In theory, the move put Mr. Bannon, a former Navy surface warfare officer, admiral’s aide, investment banker, Hollywood producer and Breitbart News firebrand, on the same level as his friend, Michael T. Flynn, the national security adviser, a former Pentagon intelligence chief who was Mr. Trump’s top adviser on national security issues before a series of missteps reduced his influence….

in terms of real influence, Mr. Bannon looms above almost everyone except the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, in the Trumpian pecking order, according to interviews with two dozen Trump insiders and current and former national security officials. The move involving Mr. Bannon, as well as the boost in status to the White House homeland security adviser, Thomas P. Bossert, and Mr. Trump’s relationships with cabinet appointees like Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, have essentially layered over Mr. Flynn.

There’s much more, so I hope you’ll the whole article to learn all the details about Flynn’s waning importance.

This morning Vanity Fair  has a fascinating piece on Jared Kushner, whom tRump has been working around lately. Kushner was supposed to be highly influential in the White House, but now it appears the Steve Bannon is pushing him aside too.

Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump

Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump

Little more than a week into the Trump presidency, the timing of the Friday sunset seems to be growing increasingly important. Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and West Wing adviser, has been positioned as something of a mollifying presence upon his mercurial boss. “I have a feeling that Jared’s going to do a great job. He’s going to do a great job. You’ll work with him,” Trump recently declared at his pre-inaugural gala to assorted well-wishers and friends from the business community. In a White House split between those seemingly loyal to the Republican Party (Reince Priebus, the former chairman of the R.N.C., now Trump’s chief of staff), and its rabid base (Breitbart chairman turned chief strategist Stephen Bannon), Kushner appeared to be a Valerie Jarrett type—a steady familiar voice who could suss out the signal from the noise.

Kushner, along with his wife, Ivanka Trump, is also an orthodox Jew who observes Shabbat. From sundown on Friday until sundown on Saturday, the couple abstains from technology and work. And early in the incipient Trump administration, that brief period has been unusually fraught. Last week, the president personally called the Park Service on the morning after his inauguration to inquire about the size of the crowds who came to watch him take the oath of office. He subsequently delivered a widely derided speech at C.I.A. headquarters that afternoon, during which he blathered on about the media’s treatment of him and his inaugural crowd size. He then sent his press secretary, Sean Spicer, into the briefing room to falsely claim that it was the largest audience for an inauguration in history. During the tumult, some noticed the conspicuous absence of Kushner’s allegedly calming presence. “He wasn’t rolling calls on Saturday when this happened,” one person close to Kushner told me last week. “To me, that’s not a coincidence.”

The timing of Trump’s executive order on Friday, just moments before sundown, meant that Kushner would not be in the West Wing to absorb another cataclysmic Saturday. Indeed, Kushner observed the Sabbath as thousands of people protested outside airports across the country, children waited for their detained parents, lawyers rushed to federal court rooms, taxi drivers went on strike, and one Democratic leader broke down in tears on live television.

Like the spoiled child he essentially is, Trump has been waiting until Jared and Ivanka are observing the Sabbath to whip out his more extreme actions, and Kushner, according to The Atlantic, is “fucking furious. Read the entire article for more details.

Who knows what’s in store for today and the rest of the week? We probably won’t have to wait long to find out. So . . . what stories are you following today?