The heads of Ford and Goldman Sachs came out against the new president's executive order Monday, as Trump fired his defiant AG when she publicly questioned the ban's constitutionality and refused to defend it
WASHINGTON—In an extraordinary public showdown, President Donald Trump fired the acting attorney general of the United States Jan. 30 after she publicly questioned the constitutionality of his refugee and immigration ban and refused to defend it in court.
The clash Monday night between Trump and Sally Yates, a career prosecutor and Democratic appointee, laid bare the growing discord and dissent surrounding an executive order that halted the entire U.S. refugee program and banned all entries from seven Muslim-majority nations for 90 days. The firing, in a written statement released just hours after Yates went public with her concerns, also served as a warning to other administration officials that Trump is prepared to terminate those who refuse to carry out his orders.
Yates’ refusal to defend the executive order was largely symbolic given that Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s pick for attorney general, will almost certainly defend the policy once he’s sworn in. He’s expected to be confirmed Jan. 31 by the Senate Judiciary Committee and could be approved within days by the full Senate.
Yet the firing reflected the mounting conflict over the executive order, as administration officials have moved to distance themselves from the policy and even some of Trump’s top advisers have made clear that they were not consulted on its implementation.
As protests erupted at airports across the globe, and as legal challenges piled up in courthouses, Yates directed agency attorneys not to defend the executive order. She said in a memo Monday she was not convinced it was lawful or consistent with the agency’s obligation “to stand for what is right.”
Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, soon followed with a statement accusing Yates of having “betrayed the Department of Justice by refusing to enforce a legal order designed to protect the citizens of the United States.” Trump named longtime federal prosecutor Dana Boente, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, as Yates’ replacement. Boente was sworn in privately late Monday, the White House said, and rescinded Yates’s directive.
Meanwhile, the heads of some of the world’s biggest companies are fighting back against President Donald Trump’s temporary immigration ban, calling it un-American and bad for business.
The CEOs of Ford and Goldman Sachs are two of the latest high-profile executives to say they don’t support the executive order the president signed last week.
A host of other big businesses, including Apple, Google and a number of other large tech firms came out against the ban over the weekend. Other companies said they will help employees affected by the ban or, in the case of Starbucks, hire refugees.
Businesses already have a complicated relationship with Trump, who has been openly critical of companies planning to build plants in Mexico or charge what he sees as too much for fighter jets. Some have announced hiring plans and investments in the U.S., saying they like Trump’s plans to reduce regulation and lower corporate taxes.
But the corporate reaction to the executive order was strong, quick and harsh.
“This is unprecedented,” said Bill Klepper, an adjunct management professor at Columbia Business School in New York.
Trump said the executive order, signed Friday, was necessary to stop “radical Islamic terrorists” from coming to the U.S. It included a 90-day ban on travel to the U.S. by citizens of Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen, and a 120-day suspension of the U.S. refugee program. The White House did not respond to a request for comment Monday.
It could be risky for businesses to speak out publicly, since Trump likes to fight back and criticize companies from his Twitter account. But public-relations experts said businesses have no choice, especially if the ban negatively affects their employees or customers.
“No company has gone out of business putting their customers and employees first,” said Matt Friedman, co-founder of Tanner Friedman Strategic Communications in Farmington Hills, Michigan.
Following the tech firm push-back over the weekend, Coca-Cola Co. CEO Muhtar Kent said the soda maker was against the travel ban, and General Electric Co. CEO Jeff Immelt said the industrial conglomerate would make its “voice heard” with the new administration and Congress.
Ford Motor Co. said it does not support the policy “or any other that goes against our values as a company,” according to a letter signed by the automaker’s CEO Mark Fields and Executive Chairman Bill Ford. General Motors Co. sent a note to employees saying it will support any who can’t return to the U.S. because of the ban. But other automakers, Nissan Motor Co. and Honda Motor Co., were silent.
The auto industry, a frequent target of Trump’s ire for moving jobs overseas, is walking a fine line, trying to avoid punishing tariffs and hoping Trump gives them some relief on corporate taxes and fuel economy standards.
And Goldman Sachs Group Inc., whose former employees are some of Trump’s most trusted advisers, also pushed back.
“This is not a policy we support,” said the bank’s CEO, Lloyd Blankfein, in a voicemail to employees.
Drugmaker Merck & Co. said it will offer legal advice and other assistance to its employees, as did furniture seller Ikea.
But taking a position on political matters can be risky for companies.
The hashtag #BoycottStarbucks was trending on Twitter Monday after the company announced it will hire 10,000 refugees over the next five years at its coffee shops around the world. Starbucks Corp. said that it recognizes “that sometimes there are those who may disagree with us, and we respect these diverse points of view and will continue to listen.”
—AP reporters Matthew Lee, Lolita C. Baldor, Erica Werner, Jonathan Lemire, Vivian Salama, Mae Anderson, Candice Choi, Anne D’Innocenzio, Barbara Ortutay, Ken Sweet, Linda A. Johnson, Dee-Ann Durbin and Michael Liedtke contributed to this report.