Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) persists for the life of its host by establishing a latent infection. The identification of viral and cellular determinants of latency is the first step toward developing antiviral treatments that target and might clear or control the reservoir of latent virus. HCMV latency is established in CD34(+) cells when expression of viral immediate early (IE) proteins that initiate lytic infection is silenced. Viral IE gene expression during lytic infection is controlled by a cellular intrinsic immune defense mediated by promyelocytic leukemia nuclear body (PML-NB) proteins such as Daxx and histone deacetylases (HDACs). This defense is inactivated at the start of lytic infection by the HCMV virion tegument protein pp71, which upon viral entry traffics to the nucleus and induces Daxx degradation. Here we show that a similar defense is present, active, and not neutralized during experimental latency in CD34(+) cells infected in vitro because tegument-delivered pp71 remains in the cytoplasm. Artificial inactivation of this defense by HDAC inhibition or Daxx knockdown rescues viral IE gene expression upon infection of CD34(+) cells with a laboratory-adapted viral strain but not with clinical strains. Interestingly, coinfection of CD34(+) cells with clinical viral strains blocked the ability of an HDAC inhibitor to activate IE1 and early protein expression during infection with a laboratory-adapted strain. This suggests that in addition to the intrinsic defense, HCMV clinical strains contribute an HDAC-independent, trans-acting dominant means of control over viral gene expression during the early stages of experimental HCMV latency modeled in vitro in CD34(+) cells.