While traveling to the airport after a meeting about former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn in late January, Yates received a call from her principle deputy, who said, "You're not going to believe this, but I was just on the New York Times website, and it looks like the president has instituted some sort of travel ban," according to Business Insider.
"That's how we found out about it at the Department of Justice: read about it on the Internet," said Yates at the 2017 Aspen Ideas Festival on Wednesday. "I'm on my way to the plane, I've got my iPad, I'm furiously going on there trying to figure out what it is."
"I'm literally going online to try to find a copy of the executive order so we could get some sense of what this was," Yates added. "So over the course of that weekend, it was a whole lot of trying to figure out 'What the heck is this thing, and to whom does it apply?'"
Yates, who came from former President Barack Obama's administration, was famously fired by the President after she questioned the constitutionality of Trump's first executive order barring visitors from certain Muslim-majority countries to the United States and refused to defend it. Trump's first travel ban was knocked down by a Seattle-based judge, and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals turned down the Trump administration's request to lift the injunction.
Trump later issued a revised travel ban, which was blocked by federal judges in Hawaii and Maryland. His appeals were rejected by the 4th Circuit Court and 9th Circuit Court. However, the Supreme Court announced Monday it would hear arguments on the travel ban in October and allowed parts of the executive order to go into effect until then. The court's move reinstates restrictions on visitors from six Muslim-majority countries that include Syria, Iran, Libya, Sudan, Yemen and Somalia.
At the event in Aspen, Yates detailed how she gathered members of the Department of Justice to discuss the executive order. They swapped analyses on whether they believed the ban was lawful, she said.
"At the end of that, I was not comfortable that it was in fact lawful or constitutional," Yates said.
"I didn't feel like I would be doing my job if I just essentially said 'I'm out of here. You guys figure this out,'" Yates added. "That would have protected my personal integrity, but I didn't believe that it would have protected the integrity of the Department of Justice. And it wouldn't have been doing my job."
"Not surprisingly, I got a letter about 9:00 p.m. that night firing me," she said. "So that was that."