‘Massacre’: Nets Decry ‘High-Stakes Drama’ of Trump Firing Insubordinate Obama AG

On Tuesday, all three network morning shows hyperventilated over President Trump lawfully firing acting Attorney General Sally Yates, an Obama political appointee, after she refused to do her job and enforce his executive order on immigration. Co-host Matt Lauer began NBC’s Today by proclaiming: “You're fired! President Trump gives the acting attorney general the boot for refusing to defend his controversial immigration order.”

Lauer went on to tout “The Senate Minority Leader [Chuck Schumer] taking to the floor to implore Trump to repeal that ban.” In the report that followed, correspondent Peter Alexander declared: “...this was quite the drama overnight....It’s a move that legal experts say the President had the right to make, but one that critics, for maximum effect, are trying to draw comparisons to the Saturday Night Massacre, where President Nixon used his power to punish political opponents.”

Another soundbite was featured of Senator Schumer ranting: “We had a Monday night massacre.” Alexander emphasized: “That massacre referring to President Trump's firing overnight of acting Attorney General Sally Yates, an Obama holdover. The dismissal coming just hours after Yates ordered Justice Department lawyers not to defend Trump's controversial travel ban.”

On CBS This Morning, co-host Charlie Rose announced: “President Trump has fired the acting attorney general for her refusal to defend his controversial travel ban.” A report from correspondent Margaret Brennan led with the clip of Schumer claiming “a Monday night massacre” had occurred, with her adding: “During a late-night floor speech, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer framed the firing of the acting attorney general, Sally Yates, as another sign of an impulsive administration.”

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ABC’s Good Morning America avoided talk of a “massacre” at the Justice Department, but senior legal correspondent Pierre Thomas still employed his own melodramatic rhetoric: “‘You're fired!’ That was the conclusion of a fast-moving showdown playing out last night between two of the most powerful offices in Washington. The high-stakes drama began shortly before 6:30 p.m. The nation's chief law enforcement officer, in an act of open defiance, aimed at the President of the United States.”

Noting that Yates was “an Obama administration holdover,” Thomas promoted the “dramatic letter” she sent to department lawyers “saying she was not sure President Trump's order was, quote, “lawful,” and that she was not convinced it was consistent with the institution's obligation to always seek justice and to stand for what is right.”

The reporter concluded the segment by breathlessly asserting that the move was “perhaps the most dramatic several hours I’ve seen in nearly 20 years of covering the Justice Department.” Co-host George Stephanopoulos agreed: “It was a night of drama.”

The media double standard on Justice Department staffing changes has been well-documented by the Media Research Center. In 2007, the networks hounded then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales for firing eight U.S. attorneys and replacing them with appointees selected by the Bush administration, treating the common practice as if it were a scandal. However, in 1993, the press didn’t bat at eye at then-President Clinton firing 93 U.S. attorneys to make room for his political appointees.

Here are excerpts of the coverage on the January 31 NBC, CBS, and ABC morning shows:

Today
7:01 AM ET

MATT LAUER: Let us start, though, on a Tuesday morning with our top story, and it’s a very public clash over President Trump's order on immigration. So late last night, the President fired Sally Yates, the acting U.S. Attorney General, for refusing to enforce that travel ban. The President accusing her of betrayal and insubordination.

HODA KOTB: In his first statement since leaving office, former President Obama is expressing support for the ongoing protests against Trump’s orders, saying they are exactly what he expects to see when American values are at stake.

LAUER: Now all of this as President Trump gets set to announce his nominee for the Supreme Court today, moving to fill the seat of the late Justice Antonin Scalia. We have complete coverage, starting at the White House with NBC’s Peter Alexander. Peter, good morning.

PETER ALEXANDER: Matt, good morning to you. As you laid out, this was quite the drama overnight. And this morning, there is a new top law enforcement officer at the Justice Department after President Trump’s swift action to remove the interim head. It’s a move that legal experts say the President had the right to make, but one that critics, for maximum effect, are trying to draw comparisons to the Saturday Night Massacre, where President Nixon used his power to punish political opponents.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Trump Fires Acting Attorney General; Dismisses Her for Refusing to Enforce Travel Ban]

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER: We had a Monday night massacre.

ALEXANDER: That massacre referring to President Trump's firing overnight of acting Attorney General Sally Yates, an Obama holdover. The dismissal coming just hours after Yates ordered Justice Department lawyers not to defend Trump's controversial travel ban. The White House saying Yates “betrayed” the department, naming a new acting attorney general, Dana Boente, until Senator Jeff Sessions can be confirmed.

(...)


CBS This Morning
7:03 AM ET

CHARLIE ROSE: President Trump has fired the acting attorney general for her refusal to defend his controversial travel ban. The President removed Sally Yates last night. He also replaced the acting director of immigration and customs enforcement.

[CBS News Graphic: "Fired By The President: White House Removes Both Acting AG & ICE Director"]

NORAH O'DONNELL: Now earlier, a White House spokesman told State Department officials to think about quitting if they cannot support the President. Yates was fired for telling Justice Department lawyers not to defend the President's executive order, which temporarily blocks entry to the U.S. from seven mostly-Muslim countries.

GAYLE KING: Now, the new acting attorney general, Dana Boente, quickly said he will defend and enforce the laws of our country.

Margaret Brennan is at the White House with all these changes and the reaction. Margaret, good morning.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Good morning. Well, President Trump is blasting Democrats for not quickly confirming his nominee for attorney general, Senator Jeff Sessions, who was set to soon replace Obama appointee Sally Yates. And it was her objection to the travel ban, already reviewed by Justice Department lawyers, that led Mr. Trump to fire her.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, (D), NEW YORK (from speech on Senate floor): We had a Monday night massacre.

BRENNAN (voice-over): During a late-night floor speech, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer framed the firing of the acting attorney general, Sally Yates, as another sign of an impulsive administration.

SCHUMER: We cannot have a presidency that thinks, oh, this sound goods, let's just go do it; and not think the consequences through.

BRENNAN: The White House claimed Yates, an Obama holdover, had 'betrayed the Department of Justice' by refusing to enforce his travel ban. Yates said she was not convinced it was lawful.

Congress is soon expected to approve Mr. Trump's nominee for attorney general, Senator Jeff Sessions, who is more likely to agree with the policy. Republican Senator Ted Cruz called on Senate Democrats to 'confirm Sessions immediately,' writing Yates's defiance adds her to the list of Obama-appointed — quote, 'attorneys general who put brazen partisan interests above fidelity to law.'

(...)


Good Morning America
7:02 AM ET

ROBIN ROBERTS: But first, we want to get to that breaking news overnight, the President firing and replacing the acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates after she refused to defend the administration's immigration and travel order. President Trump calling it a betrayal. Our senior justice correspondent Pierre Thomas joins us now, has the latest from Washington. Good morning, Pierre.

PIERRE THOMAS: Good morning, Robin. “You're fired!” That was the conclusion of a fast-moving showdown playing out last night between two of the most powerful offices in Washington.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Trump Fires Acting Attorney General; Top Lawyer Refused to Defend Immigration Order]

The high-stakes drama began shortly before 6:30 p.m. The nation's chief law enforcement officer, in an act of open defiance, aimed at the President of the United States. Acting Attorney General Sally Yates refusing to allow Justice Department attorneys to defend President Trump's executive order banning some refugees and immigrants from the U.S.

SALLY YATES: I'm very grateful for this opportunity and grateful for President Obama's nomination.

THOMAS: Yates, an Obama administration holdover, sending a dramatic letter to department lawyers, saying she was not sure President Trump's order was, quote, “lawful,” and that she was not convinced it was consistent with the institution's obligation to always seek justice and to stand for what is right. In roughly three hours, Trump responded by firing Yates.

The White House issuing a blistering statement, saying that Yates had, quote, “Betrayed the Department of Justice” by refusing to enforce Trump’s order, which administration officials say was designed to protect the American people. Yates, a 27-year veteran of the Justice Department, had been asked to stay on by the Trump administration until his nominee for attorney general could be confirmed. That said, she did overrule career attorneys at Justice who said Trump's order was indeed legal. Robin?

ROBERTS: And Pierre, we know the President has already appointed a new acting attorney general.

THOMAS: That's right, the White House called Yates weak on immigration and Trump appointed a new acting attorney general last night, Dana Boente, who quickly overturned Yates’s decision in perhaps the most dramatic several hours I’ve seen in nearly 20 years of covering the Justice Department.  

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: It was a night of drama.

NBDaily Appointments Immigration Conservatives & Republicans Liberals & Democrats ABC Good Morning America CBS CBS This Morning NBC Today Video Peter Alexander Margaret Brennan Pierre Thomas

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