In a statement, it said allowing sport hunting as part of regulated program could be an incentive for local governments to put money toward species preservation.
Animal rights groups blasted the decision.
Trump tweeted late Friday that he was reversing course for the time being.
But ABC says the Trump administration chose to issue permits after determining that regulated hunting would help preserve the endangered species.
Earlier this week, the Trump Administration announced that the Obama era ban on importing elephant tusks and other trophies from Zambia and Zimbabwe would be lifted. "As a result, in a manner compliant with all applicable laws, rules, and regulations, the issuing of permits is being put on hold as the decision is being reviewed".
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And critics noted that Trump's adult sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, are known big game hunters.
The Fish and Wildlife Service says on its website that hunting lions can play a "significant role in their conservation", adding that America is bound by the Endangered Species Act to ensure that "hunters are contributing to the conservation of lions in the wild by participating in hunting programs that provide a clear conservation benefit and contribute to the long-term survival of the species in the wild".
"I have to say I think this is a big mistake", he said, "Space for Giants does not operate in the countries under discussion, Zambia and Zimbabwe, but I would say that lifting the ban sends completely the wrong signals at a time when the world needs absolute ban on any trade in wildlife parts".
Royce questioned the action because of concerns not only about African wildlife but US national security, citing the political upheaval in Zimbabwe, where the longtime president was placed under house arrest this week by the military.
He described the perilous situation in Zimbabwe, where the U.S. Embassy has advised Americans to limit their travel outdoors. "Furthermore, I am not convinced that elephant populations in the area warrant overconcentration measures". Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., co-chairs of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus, assailed the administration's decision. "This is the kind of trade we don't need".