President Trump’s selection for attorney general once questioned Sally Yates during a confirmation hearing in 2015 about whether the role of an attorney general was simply follow marching orders from the sitting president.
“If the views the president wants to execute is unlawful, should the attorney general or deputy attorney general say no?” Sessions asked.
“Senator, I believe the attorney general or the deputy attorney general has the obligation to follow the law and the Consitution and to give their independent legal advice to the president,” she responded.
Trump relieved acting Attorney General Yates of her duties Monday night after she directed Justice Department attorneys not to defend Trump's controversial executive refugee and immigration ban.
Yates, a holdover from the Obama administration, was replaced by Dana Boente, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. Boente, 62, was sworn in Monday evening. He will lead the Justice Department pending the confirmation of Sessions, Trump's nominee for attorney general, by the Senate.
Yates said in a memo earlier Monday that she was "not convinced" that Trump's order was lawful, nor that its defense was consistent with what she described as the department's obligation to "always seek justice and stand for what is right."
An unsigned White House statement said Yates had "betrayed the Department of Justice by refusing to enforce a legal order designed to protect the citizens of the United States." The executive order, which Trump signed Friday, temporarily halted the entire U.S. refugee program and banned all entries from seven Muslim-majority nations for 90 days.
The March 24, 2015 confirmation hearing video was posted on C-SPAN. It contained footage from the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing to consider Yates for deputy attorney general, the department’s second-highest position.