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."

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Protesters and lawyers welcome international travelers in airports amid immigration ban
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Protesters and lawyers welcome international travelers in airports amid immigration ban
A young girl dances with an American flag in baggage claim while women pray behind her during a protest against the travel ban imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order, at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in Dallas, Texas, U.S. January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Laura Buckman
People chant and hold signs as they protest against the travel ban imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order, at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport International Arrivals gate in Dallas, Texas, U.S. January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Laura Buckman
An international traveler smiles as she walks past the protest against the travel ban imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order, at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in Dallas, Texas, U.S. January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Laura Buckman
Lawyers and legal assistants network and use social media in the baggage claim area, amid supplies of pizza, water and other food, at Dulles International Airport, aiding passengers who have arrived and encounter problems because of Donald Trump's travel ban to the United States, in Chantilly, Virginia, in suburban Washington, U.S., January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Theiler
Volunteer lawyers work in a dining area of Terminal 4 to assist travelers detained as part of Donald Trump's travel ban in Terminal 4 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York, U.S., January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
Lawyer Darryl Hairston works with a team of volunteer lawyers to arrange habeus corpus petitions for travelers detained as part of Donald Trump's travel ban in Terminal 4 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York, U.S., January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
Demonstrators yell slogans during anti-Donald Trump travel ban protests outside Hatfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia U.S., January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Chris Aluka Berry
Demonstrators sit inside LAX international terminal and yell slogans during protest against the travel ban imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order, at Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Ted Soqui
Demonstrators yell slogans during anti-Donald Trump travel ban protests outside Philadelphia International Airport in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Charles Mostoller
Women walk by a team of volunteer lawyers in their makeshift office working to assist travelers detained as part of Donald Trump's travel ban in Terminal 4 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York, U.S., January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
Demonstrators march and block traffic during anti-Donald Trump travel ban protests outside Philadelphia International Airport in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Charles Mostoller
An international traveler smiles as she walks past the protest against the travel ban imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order, at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in Dallas, Texas, U.S. January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Laura Buckman
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 29: Protesters hold signs during a demonstration against the immigration ban that was imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump at Los Angeles International Airport on January 29, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. Thousands of protesters gathered outside of the Tom Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport to denounce the travel ban imposed by President Trump. Protests are taking place at airports across the country. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Demonstrators hold signs outside Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) protesting against U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order blocking visitors from seven predominantly Muslim nations in Los Angeles, California, U.S., on Sunday, Jan. 29, 2017. Court decisions temporarily blocked the U.S. administration from enforcing parts of Trump's order after a day in which students, refugees and dual citizens were stuck overseas or detained and some businesses warned employees from those countries not to risk leaving the United States. Photographer: Dania Maxwell/Bloomberg via Getty Images
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 29: Protesters march during a demonstration against the immigration ban that was imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump at Los Angeles International Airport on January 29, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. Thousands of protesters gathered outside of the Tom Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport to denounce the travel ban imposed by President Trump. Protests are taking place at airports across the country. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, UNITED STATES - JANUARY 29: Demonstrators against President Donald Trump's Muslim Ban come together at 2nd Day of protests at Los Angeles International Airport, in Los Angeles, California, United States on January 29, 2017. Lots of muslim people still under custody of US Custom and Border Patrol after Trumps's executive order. (Photo by Aydin Palabiyikoglu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Protesters gather at the international arrivals area of the Washington Dulles International Airport on January 29, 2017, in Sterling, Virginia. US President Donald Trump issued an executive order yesterday barring citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States for the next 90 days and suspends the admission of all refugees for 120 days. / AFP / Thomas WATKINS (Photo credit should read THOMAS WATKINS/AFP/Getty Images)
Protestors crowd the sidewalks at HartsfieldJackson Atlanta International Airport to denounce US President Donald Trump's executive order, which restricts refugees and travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries in Atlanta, Georgia on January 29, 2017 / AFP / TAMI CHAPPELL (Photo credit should read TAMI CHAPPELL/AFP/Getty Images)
More than 600 people holding protests signs gathered on Sunday, Jan. 29, 2017 at the Boise Airport to voice opposition to President Donald Trump's recent refugee order. The protest started with a FaceBook page asking people in the area to join a nationwide movement to gather at airports. (Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman/TNS via Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 29: Demonstrators at Philadelphia International Airport protest against the executive order that President Donald Trump signed clamping down on refugee admissions and temporarily restricting travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries on January 29, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Demonstrators gathered at airports across the country in protest of the order. (Photo by Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 29: A police officer stands guard as demonstrators at Philadelphia International Airport protest against the executive order that President Donald Trump signed clamping down on refugee admissions and temporarily restricting travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries on January 29, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Demonstrators gathered at airports across the country in protest of the order. (Photo by Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images)
Thousands turn out for a January 29th, 2017 Immigration Ban Protest at Philadelphia International Airport, in Philadelphia Pennsylvania. (Photo by Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
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"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.

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Sally Yates
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Sally Yates
Sally Yates, former acting U.S. attorney general, swears in to a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, May 8, 2017. Yates said she warned the White House's top lawyer in late January that then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn had misled Vice President Mike Pence and others about contacts with Russian officials and was potentially subject to blackmail by them. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) greets former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates after she testified about potential Russian interference in the presidential election before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill Washington, D.C., U.S. May 8, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

U.S. Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates testifies during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on "Going Dark: Encryption, Technology, and the Balance Between Public Safety and Privacy" in Washington July 8, 2015.

(REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

U.S. President Barack Obama attends a meeting with FBI Director James Comey (C), Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates (R) along with DHS Secretary Charles Johnson (not pictured) and NCTC Director Nicholas Rasmussen (not pictured) at the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., June 13, 2016.

(REUTERS/Carlos Barria)

Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates speaks during a press conference at the Department of Justice on June 28, 2016 in Washington, DC. Volkswagen has agreed to nearly $15 billion in a settlement over emissions cheating on its diesel vehicles.

(Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)

U.S. Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates (L) and FBI Director James Comey are sworn in to testify at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on "Going Dark: Encryption, Technology, and the Balance Between Public Safety and Privacy" in Washington July 8, 2015.

(REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

Former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates arrives to testify before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on ?Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election? on Capitol Hill in Washington, U .S., May 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jim Bourg
Former acting Attorney General Sally Yates (2nd R) and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (L) prepare to testify on May 8, 2017, before the US Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates (L) speaks alongside FBI Director James Comey (2L) and Chuck Rosenberg (C), acting administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as they attend a new Implicit Bias Training program at the Department of Justice in Washington, DC, June 28, 2016. 

(SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Going Dark and data encryption in Washington, USA on JULY 8, 2015.

(Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Flanked by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy and Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Edith Ramirez , Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates speaks during a press conference at the Department of Justice on June 28, 2016 in Washington, DC. Volkswagen has agreed to nearly $15 billion in a settlement over emissions cheating on its diesel vehicles.

(Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch (2nd L) delivers closing remarks to the Justice Department Summit on Violence Crime Reduction with Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates (3rd L) and other Justice Department officials at the Washington Plaza Hotel October 7, 2015 in Washington, DC. Lynch invited mayors and police chiefs from 20 cities and other federal officials to the conference to discuss the root causes of crime and strategies for reducing it.

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, in her office at the Justice Department, May 15, 2015, in Washington, DC. Yates, who was confirmed by the Senate yesterday, is a former career prosecutor from Atlanta.

(Photo by Evelyn Hockstein/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 08: Former acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates (R) and Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testify before the Senate Judicary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill May 8, 2017 in Washington, DC. Before being fired by U.S. President Donald Trump, Yates had warned the White House about contacts between former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and Russia that might make him vulnerable to blackmail. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates is sworn in prior to testifying before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on ?Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election? on Capitol Hill in Washington, U .S., May 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jim Bourg TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper are sworn in before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C., U.S. May 8, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
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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.

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