Acting Attorney General Sally Yates orders DOJ not to defend Trump's immigration ban

Acting Attorney General Sally Q. Yates, an appointee of former President Barack Obama who is serving as head of the Department of Justice until President Donald Trump's replacement is confirmed by the Senate, ordered DOJ employees on Monday not to defend Trump's entry bans on refugees and citizens of seven Muslim-majority nations.

In a letter to top DOJ lawyers, Yates wrote she disagreed with the DOJ's Office of Legal Counsel's vetting of the executive order and is "at present, I am not convinced that the defense of the executive order is consistent with [her] responsibilities nor am I convinced that the executive order is lawful."

"Consequently, for as long as I am the acting attorney general, the Department of Justice will not present arguments in defense of the executive order, unless and until I become convinced that it is appropriate to do so," Yates concluded.

Over the weekend, CNN reported the executive order was hastily drafted by an inner circle of Trump advisers including former Breitbart executive Stephen Bannon and may have gone into force without thorough vetting by relevant agencies or DOJ lawyers. The announcement of the order, and subsequent chaos of its implementation at airports around the United States as U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers detained an unknown number of travelers at airports, triggered nationwide protests.

As the New York Times noted, Yates' letter is largely a symbolic move as Trump's attorney general nominee, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, will likely be approved in coming days. But her refusal to toe the new administration's line may trigger infighting between the Obama holdovers in the DOJ and Trump's White House at exactly the time the new president is attempting to move forcefully with his agenda.