Jeff Sessions Marvels At How A Judge ‘On An Island In The Pacific’ Could Stall Travel Ban


Attorney General Jeff Sessions expressed skepticism that a federal judge who serves in Hawaii had the power to block President Donald Trump’s retooled travel ban, which has been stuck in the courts since last month.


“I really am amazed that a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific can issue an order that stops the president of the United States from what appears to be clearly his statutory and constitutional power,” Sessions told “The Mark Levin Show,” a conservative talk show, earlier this week, according to a report by CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski.

U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson, a Hawaii native, issued an order March 15 that put a stop to important aspects of Trump’s second travel ban. That order, which applies nationwide, is being challenged by Sessions’ Department of Justice before the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, based in San Francisco. A Virginia-based court is considering a separate Justice Department appeal to a Maryland ruling against the travel ban

The night Watson issued his ruling, Trump complained to a booing audience in Tennessee that the judge’s ruling was “flawed” and that it “makes us look weak.” Watson has reportedly been the subject of threats for ruling against the president’s executive order, which would limit travel to the U.S. from six Muslim-majority countries and halt refugee resettlement programs.

The two senators from Hawaii, both Democrats, reacted strongly to Sessions’ comment. Sen. Mazie Hirono likened his remarks about Watson to “dog whistle politics.”

Mr. Attorney General: You voted for that judge. And that island is called Oahu. It’s my home. Have some respect. 

Hey Jeff Sessions, this has been the 50th state for going on 58 years. And we won’t succumb to your dog whistle politics

In a statement later Thursday, Hirono, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee that vets and confirms federal judges, called Sessions’ suggestion that Watson is somehow unable to carry out his duties impartially “dangerous, ignorant, and prejudiced.”

“I am frankly dumbfounded that our nation’s top lawyer would attack our independent judiciary,” she said. “But we shouldn’t be surprised. This is just the latest in the Trump Administration’s attacks against the very tenets of our Constitution and democracy.”

Hawaii’s attorney general, Doug Chin, whose state led the charge against the second travel ban in federal court, blasted Sessions over his apparent disregard for the separation of powers.


“Our federal courts, established under article III of the Constitution, are co-equal partners with Congress and the President,” Chin said in a statement late Thursday. “It is disappointing AG Sessions does not acknowledge that.”


A Justice Department spokesman tried to mitigate Sessions’ comments.

“Hawaii is, in fact, an island in the Pacific — a beautiful one where the Attorney General’s granddaughter was born,” Ian D. Prior said in an email to The Huffington Post on Thursday. “The point, however, is that there is a problem when a flawed opinion by a single judge can block the President’s lawful exercise of authority to keep the entire country safe.”


Trump’s swipes against the federal judiciary since taking office have alarmed court watchers and the public. Even Justice Neil Gorsuch faced a tough round of grilling in confirmation hearings last month from senators asking about the president’s outbursts. The then-nominee declined to call Trump out by name, saying that he couldn’t get into politics.


Trump and his surrogates’ openly anti-Muslim sentiments have haunted his executive orders in the courts. In his ruling, Watson found that the second travel ban — which was crafted to correct deep flaws courts found with the first one — was likely unconstitutional because it was implemented with the intent to target members of a particular religion.


In the Levin interview, Sessions said that judges shouldn’t “psychoanalyze” Trump’s motives and instead look at the national security rationale behind it.

Ryan J. Reilly contributed reporting.

This story has been updated to include Chin’s statement.


Jeff Sessions (White Freemason) Giving Free Rein to Police Departments, Destroying Years of Work by Obama to Reform Violent Practices

It was no surprise when Attorney General Jeff Session announced his decision Monday to curb the Justice Department office that investigates and sometimes sues local police departments for “a pattern or practice” of unconstitutional law enforcement.

On February 28, Sessions told the National Association of Attorneys General, “We need, so far as we can, in my view, [to] help police departments get better, not diminish their effectiveness.” Afterwards, he told reporters, “So we’re going to try to pull back on [investigating police abuses], and I don’t think it’s wrong or mean or insensitive to civil rights or human rights.”

Sessions was signaling his intention to reverse the policy of the Obama administration Justice Department, which opened investigations into 25 of the 18,000 police departments and sheriff’s offices across the country. President Obama also enforced 19 consent decrees that resolved civil rights lawsuits filed against police in Cleveland, Baltimore, New Orleans, Ferguson, Missouri and 15 other cities.

On Monday, the New York Times reports Sessions “directed his staff to look at whether law enforcement programs adhere to principles put forth by the Trump administration, including one declaring that ‘the individual misdeeds of bad actors should not impugn’ the work police officers perform ‘in keeping American communities safe.'”

What is surprising is that Sessions would align himself against police chiefs and federal judges when they try to address police misconduct issues that go beyond the “individual deeds of bad actors.”

The result of Sessions’ decision, said law professor Franklin Zimring in an interview with AlterNet, will be to hobble longstanding federal efforts to improve local police practices, with the help of the police.

“If you want to save one life or two, you prosecute an officer who uses excessive force,” says Zimring. “If you want to save 400 lives, you rewrite the rules on use of lethal force under a consent decree.”

Zimring is the author of the Amazon non-fiction book, When Police Kill. The book documents how and why U.S. police departments kill about 1,000 people per year. Since Jan. 1, 2017, a total of 305 people have died at the hands of U.S. law enforcement, according to a database at

Sessions’ action, says Zimring, ignores the “tremendously beneficial effects” of consent decrees.

“Exhibit A is the Los Angeles Police Department,” he says. In 1994, the LAPD entered the first such decree with the Clinton administration’s Justice Department after the videotape of LAPD officers beating Rodney King set off massive rioting in 1992. Since then, Los Angeles has had the second best improvement in public safety statistics in the country, he said.

“Los Angeles is safer and the police practices are better, as result of the decree, no question,” Zimring said.

“The second problem,” he continued, “is that when you want to deemphasize the federal role [in investigating police practices] you will inevitably ‘leave it to the states.’ But state governments and police have near zero capacity to understand and deal with police shootings. And the individual departments are too small and self-interested to investigate properly.”

A third problem, which Sessions has yet to address, is whether the courts will go along. The consent decrees are agreements between the Justice Department, the police department and a federal judge. “The Justice Department would not be able to unilaterally unwind the agreements without court intervention,” the Times notes.

For supporters of President Trump, the Attorney General is signaling an end to the so-called “war of cops.” In fact, says Zimring, fatal assaults on police officers have declined, on a per capita basis, by 70 percent, since 1976. In the last six years, the downward trend has flattened with an average of 50 officers killed annually in the line of duty, he said.

“The argument is that if you do anything that inconveniences police officers or subjects them to liability, you support a ‘war on cops,’ and you don’t care about crime,” Zimring said. “It’s an ideological proposition. That doesn’t mean it is factually true.”

The reality of Sessions’ decision, he says, is that if any U.S. police department is “willfully engaging in constitutional violations,” they may well escape accountability under the Trump administration.

“We’re going to have to find other ways to deal with them,” Zimring said.

Such as?

“Sue them in federal court, with a little help from people who are not friends with Jeff Sessions,” he said.

Jefferson Morley is AlterNet’s Washington correspondent. He is the author of  JFK and CIA: The Secret Assassination Files (Kindle) and Snow-Storm in August: Washington City, Francis Scott Key, and the Forgotten Race Riot of 1835.

Sessions orders Justice Department to review all police reform agreements

Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered Justice Department officials to review reform agreements with troubled police forces nationwide, saying it was necessary to ensure these pacts do not work against the Trump administration’s goals of promoting officer safety and morale while fighting violent crime.

In a two-page memo released Monday, Sessions said agreements reached previously between the department’s civil rights division and local police departments — a key legacy of the Obama administration — will be subject to review by his two top deputies, throwing into question whether all of the agreements will stay in place.

The memo was released not long before the department’s civil rights lawyers asked a federal judge to postpone until at least the end of June a hearing on a sweeping police reform agreement, known as a consent decree, with the Baltimore Police Department that was announced just days before President Trump took office.

“The Attorney General and the new leadership in the Department are actively developing strategies to support the thousands of law enforcement agencies across the country that seek to prevent crime and protect the public,” Justice officials said in their filing. “The Department is working to ensure that those initiatives effectively dovetail with robust enforcement of federal laws designed to preserve and protect civil rights.”

Sessions fears short-term spike in crime ‘is not a blip, but it’s the start of a dangerous trend’

Attorney General Jeff Sessions told a group of law enforcement officers in St. Louis that he fears crime rates in the United States could rise significantly on March 31. (Reuters)

Sessions has often criticized the effectiveness of consent decrees and has vowed in recent speeches to more strongly support law enforcement.

Since 2009, the Justice Department opened 25 investigations into law enforcement agencies and has been enforcing 14 consent decrees, along with some other agreements. Civil rights advocates fear that Sessions’s memo could particularly imperil the status of agreements that have yet to be finalized, such as a pending agreement with the Chicago Police Department.

“This is terrifying,” said Jonathan Smith, executive director of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, who spent five years as the department’s chief of special litigation, overseeing investigations into 23 police departments such as New Orleans, Cleveland and Ferguson, Mo. “This raises the question of whether, under the current attorney general, the Department of Justice is going to walk away from its obligation to ensure that law enforcement across the country is following the Constitution.”

The Baltimore agreement, reached after Freddie Gray died in April 2015 following an injury in police custody, calls for changes including training officers on how to resolve conflicts without force. The Justice Department asked for 90 additional days to assess whether the agreement fits with the “directives of the President and the Attorney General,” according to the filing Monday evening in U.S District Court of the District of Maryland. U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar had scheduled the public hearing for Thursday.

The filing notes that Baltimore has already made its own progress toward police reform and states that “it may be possible to take these changes into account where appropriate to ensure further compliance while protecting public safety.”

Officials who negotiated the agreement criticized the move. Vanita Gupta, former head of the Civil Rights Division under President Barack Obama, said that “the request for a delay is alarming and signals a retreat from the Justice Department’s commitment to civil rights and public safety in Baltimore.”

Baltimore Mayor Catherine E. Pugh also said she and Police Commissioner Kevin Davis oppose the delay. “Any interruption in moving forward may have the effect of eroding the trust that we are working hard to establish,” Pugh said.

But Gene Ryan, president of the union that represents rank-and-file police officers in Baltimore, said he welcomed the federal government’s request. Ryan said his chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police is in favor of reform but worries that the process was hasty.

The agreement reached between Baltimore and the Justice Department was announced in January, coming after a push by Obama administration officials to secure police reform agreements before Trump took office. The department, in a report last year, said the Baltimore police engaged in racially discriminatory policing and used excessive force because of “systemic deficiencies” in the department.

In the blistering report, federal investigators wrote that police in Baltimore, driven by a “legacy of zero tolerance enforcement,” conducted stops, searches and arrests that violated the Constitution.

The federal civil rights probe was launched afterGray, a 25-year-old, died of a spinal cord injury he suffered while in police custody. That episode added Baltimore to the list of cities that saw heated demonstrations erupt following controversial encounters between police and black residents.

After months of negotiations, federal and city officials announced an agreement to improve the department’s training, strengthen its responses to sexual assaults and encourage officers to “use force in a manner that avoids unnecessary injury or risk of injury to officers and civilians.”

Then-Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch described the decree, which must be approved by a federal judge, as “binding” and something that “will live on.” A day later, Lynch went to Chicago for the release of a sprawling federal investigation into that city’s police department that similarly assailed its practices. It’s now unclear what will happen with either of the agreements.

Adolphus Pruitt, the president of the St. Louis NAACP, questioned whether the department would also review investigations where officers were not deemed to be at fault.

“We’ve got just as many times that the Justice Department was called in to look at an incident and they found no probable cause for charges, said Pruitt, who was among the first to call for a Justice Department investigation into the August 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson. “Are they going to go back and look at those? The attorney general wants to re-examine something? Hell, I’ve got some stuff he can take a look at!”

Pruitt said he fears what the review will signal to communities awaiting reform.

“To the people who told their stories to investigators and cheered the steps toward reforms, it sends a message that the Department of Justice is not going to keep up their end of the deal,” Pruitt said.

Jeff Sessions (White Freemason) meets with JCC leaders to discuss bomb threats

(JTA) — Representatives of the umbrella organization of Jewish community centers discussed recent bomb threats against their institutions with U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Officials from the JCC Association of North America met with Sessions on Thursday, a week after an Israeli teenager was arrested on charges of calling in over 100 bomb threats to JCCs and other American Jewish institutions.

Ian Prior, a Justice Department spokesman, said the meeting was “positive and productive” and that Sessions had praised the Jewish leaders “for their responsiveness, efficiency, calm and competence” in dealing with the threats.

“The Department of Justice will not tolerate hate crimes against Jewish communities or the targeting of any community in this country on the basis of their religious beliefs,” Prior said, according to media reports.

Earlier this month, representatives from the association had written to Sessions to express their frustration with the investigation and to request a meeting.

Two weeks later, on March 23, Israeli police arrested a 19-year-old at his home in Ashkelon. The suspect, who was ordered detained for another week on Wednesday, allegedly used advanced technology and voice-altering equipment to anonymously call in bomb threats to over 100 JCCs, Jewish day schools and other Jewish institutions in the United States.

Juan Thompson, a former journalist from St. Louis accused of making at least eight bomb threats against Jewish institutions, was arrested on March 3. At an appearance in federal court on Wednesday, Thompson declined to seek bail and will likely remain in custody until his next hearing on April 10.

Jeff Sessions: JCC bomb threat probe spanned multiple continents

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the arrest in Israel of a teenager allegedly responsible for more than 100 bomb threats against U.S. Jewish institutions was the culmination of an investigation “spanning multiple continents.”

“Today’s arrest in Israel is the culmination of a large-scale investigation spanning multiple continents for hate crimes against Jewish communities across our country,” Sessions said in a statement Thursday morning after news of the arrest broke.

“The Department of Justice is committed to protecting the civil rights of all Americans and we will not tolerate the targeting of any community in this country on the basis of their religious beliefs,” the statement said. “I commend the FBI and the Israeli national police for their outstanding work on this case.”

Israel’s anti-fraud squad arrested the 19-year-old Israeli-American suspect at his home in southern Israel and searched the premises. He also is accused of a series of threats made in Europe, Australia and New Zealand in the past six months, according to reports in Israel.

In a statement, the Israeli police seemed to suggest that they had taken the lead in the operation. The statement said the arrest was made possible by an international undercover operation that featured cooperation with other national police forces, including a visit to Israel by FBI agents, and analysis of the threats was coordinated through the Israeli police’s cyber crimes unit.

“It should be noted that a large number of law and order organizations throughout the world collaborated professionally with the Israeli police, which enabled a coordinated, cross-border investigation integrating the technological know-how of multiple enforcement bodies,” it said.

On March 8, executives from 141 Jewish community centers signed a letter to Sessions expressing frustration with efforts combating a rash of bomb threats.

The letter, sent by the JCC Association of North America, the national organization of Jewish community centers, requested a meeting with Sessions and urged the Justice Department to do more to stop the threats. It also praised local law enforcement’s response to the incidents and recognized President Donald Trump’s condemnation of them.

“Still, we are frustrated with the progress in resolving this situation,” the letter said. “We insist that all relevant federal agencies, including your own, apply all the resources available to identify and bring the perpetrator or perpetrators, who are trying to instill anxiety and fear in communities across the country, to justice.”

The Department of Homeland Security had made its regional experts available to JCCs, and leaders of major Jewish groups met with FBI Director James Comey on March 3.

Attorney General Sessions pushes a ’90s-style crackdown on crime to get ‘thugs off the street’

The Justice Department will encourage cities to revive decades-old strategies to fight violent crime, focusing on sending certain gun crimes to federal court, where they carry longer sentences in far-away prisons, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Wednesday.

Sessions continued to push his tough-on-crime agenda to law enforcement officials in Richmond, where one such effort had its origins.

Sessions credited that program, known as Project Exile, for slowing the murder rate through aggressive prosecution of gun offenses under federal laws, instead of the weaker state statutes. Conviction on a federal gun charge carries a minimum, mandatory prison sentence of five years, bond is less available and defendants are sent out of state to serve their sentences.

“I will promote that nationwide,” he said, calling the effort “a very discreet effective policy against violent crime.”

The comments further underscored Sessions’ repeated promise to make fighting street violence a top mission of the Justice Department. That is a radical departure for a department that has focused more on prevention of cyberattacks from foreign criminals, counterterrorism and the threat of homegrown violent extremism.

Still, in his first month in office, Sessions has spoken more frequently about the need for federal involvement in ordinary crime-fighting, citing the need for harsh sentences for the most violent criminals. Last week, he urged the nation’s federal prosecutors to devote more resources to prosecuting the worst offenders, lamenting a rise in murders as federal prosecutions declined.

Law enforcement officials, including FBI Director James Comey, credit Project Exile for a drop in murders in Richmond. But critics have said the program that began in the 1990s was racially biased and point to other reasons for declines in crime. Federal judges at the time expressed concerns about the wisdom of having federal agencies take over functions historically reserved for state and local law enforcement.

stop stop and frisk protestPhoto by Mario Tama/Getty Images

On racial disparities, Sessions said law enforcement has “to be so sensitive to those issues,” but added, “When you fight crime you have to fight it where it is. You may have at some point an impact of a racial nature that you hate to see, but if … it’s focused fairly and objectively on dangerous criminals, then you’re doing the right thing.”

Sessions said he helped orchestrate a similar program called Project Trigger Lock when he was a federal prosecutor in Mobile, Alabama, during the height of the drug war in the 1980s and ’90s. Investigators would seek ways to move certain traditional violent crime and gang cases to federal court.

“When I met in my communities, the people in those communities pleaded with us to have more police and do a better job of getting thugs off the street,” he said. “I still go through there 30 years later and see the progress that was made.”

Sessions seeks resignations of 46 US attorneys

WASHINGTON (AP) — Attorney General Jeff Sessions is seeking the resignations of 46 United States attorneys who were appointed during prior presidential administrations, the Justice Department said Friday.

Many of the federal prosecutors who were nominated by former president Barack Obama have already left their positions, but the nearly four dozen who stayed on in the first weeks of the Trump administration have been asked to leave “in order to ensure a uniform transition,” Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said.

“Until the new US attorneys are confirmed, the dedicated career prosecutors in our US attorney’s offices will continue the great work of the department in investigating, prosecuting and deterring the most violent offenders,” she said in a statement.

It is customary for the country’s 93 US attorneys to leave their positions once a new president is in office, but the departures are not automatic. One US attorney appointed by President George W. Bush, Rod Rosenstein of Maryland, remained on the job for the entire Obama administration and is the current nominee for deputy attorney general.

A Justice Department spokesman, Peter Carr, said that President Donald Trump has asked Rosenstein and Acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente to stay on.

“The president called Dana Boente and Rod Rosenstein tonight to inform them that he has declined to accept their resignation, and they will remain in their current positions,” Carr said in an email late Friday.

During the Clinton administration, former Attorney General Janet Reno sought the resignations of the US attorneys appointed by former President George H. W. Bush in 1993, when Sessions was the US attorney for the Southern District of Alabama.

Tim Purdon, a former US attorney for North Dakota in the Obama administration, recalled that Obama permitted Bush appointees to remain on until their successors had been appointed and confirmed.

“The way the Obama administration handled it was appropriate and respectful and classy,” he said. “This saddens me because many of these people are great public servants and now they are being asked to leave.”

US attorneys are federal prosecutors who are nominated by the president, generally upon the recommendation of a home-state senator, and are responsible for prosecuting federal crimes in the territories they oversee. They report to Justice Department leadership in Washington, and their priorities are expected to be in line with those of the attorney general.

Sessions took perhaps a veiled swipe at their work in a memo earlier this week, saying that prosecutions for violent crime have been on the decline even as the number of murders has gone up. The demand for resignations seems a way to ensure he will have a team of new federal prosecutors more likely to share his agenda.

It was not immediately clear when each of the prosecutors would resign, or if they all actually will. And the request for resignations doesn’t necessarily mean Sessions plans to accept all of them. In November, Preet Bharara, the US attorney for Manhattan, said that he’d been asked by Trump to stay on and that he intended to.

Bharara’s office declined to comment Friday.

Montana’s US Attorney Mike Cotter said he received a phone call from Boente telling him “the president has directed this.”

“I think it’s very unprofessional and I’m very disappointed,” he said. “What happened today on Friday, March 10, that was so important that all Obama appointees who are US attorneys need to be gone?”

“I gotta write that (resignation) letter. It’s going to be a one-liner,” he added.

JCC leaders demand Sessions be a ‘stronger partner’ against continued threats

WASHINGTON — Amidst an unabated trend of anti-Semitic incidents throughout the United States, 141 leaders of Jewish community centers across the country sent an open letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions Wednesday asking that he take more action to deter the threats.

“We are frustrated with the progress in resolving this situation,” the letter said. “We insist that all relevant federal agencies, including your own, apply all the resources available to identify and bring the perpetrator or perpetrators, who are trying to instill anxiety and fear in communities across the country, to justice.”

Since January, more than 100 Jewish centers and other institutions have received bomb threats over six waves of such episodes, causing some parents to pull their kids from JCC programs. Meanwhile, several Jewish cemeteries have been vandalized.

The letter, orchestrated by the JCC Association of North America, asks the nation’s top law enforcement officer for a meeting to discuss “specific steps that will be taken to deter further threats, discuss security needs, and seek justice.”

While praising their various local police agencies for representing “a beacon of responsiveness and professionalism as our communities have endured dozens of anti-Semitic threats,” the signatories said they wanted Sessions’ Department of Justice to live up to the same standard.

Children and staff heading back to a Jewish school in Davie, Florida, on February 27, 2017 after police gave the all-clear following a hoax bomb threat. (screen capture: Erica Rakow/Twitter)

Children and staff heading back to a Jewish school in Davie, Florida, on February 27, 2017 after police gave the all-clear following a hoax bomb threat. (screen capture: Erica Rakow/Twitter)

“We respectfully ask that federal agencies, including your own, do the same,” the letter said, adding that the department needs to “treat this case with the utmost urgency it deserves.”

The letter came one day after the entire United States Senate sent a missive to not only Sessions but also Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and FBI Director James Comey asking that more be done to address the issue.

President Donald Trump denounced anti-Semitic attacks in his maiden speech to Congress one week ago, opening that address by saying the phenomenon was a reminder “of our nation’s path toward civil rights and the work that remains.”

“Recent threats targeting Jewish community centers and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, as well as last week’s shooting in Kansas City, remind us that while we may be a nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all its forms,” he said.

US President Donald J. Trump delivers his first address to a joint session of Congress from the floor of the House of Representatives in Washington, DC, USA, 28 February 2017. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / JIM LO SCALZO)

US President Donald J. Trump delivers his first address to a joint session of Congress from the floor of the House of Representatives in Washington, DC, USA, 28 February 2017. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / JIM LO SCALZO)

His condemnation came after Jewish leaders were roiled over his apparent hesitance to speak out unequivocally against anti-Semitism, despite those forces seemingly having been empowered during his campaign and subsequent victory.

Many outside groups and legislators have been demanding tangible actions be taken to counter the uptick in anti-Jewish hate crimes, including the House of Representative’s Bipartisan Task Force for Combating Anti-Semitism.

That group wants the White House to create a mechanism led by Sessions to “coordinate inter-agency detection” for responding to anti-Semitic incidents in cooperation with the FBI, the Departments of Homeland Security, Education and State, as well as the director of National Intelligence.

While the JCC leaders did not recommend any specific policy proposals for addressing the matter more effectively or efficiently, they made clear they expected a more robust effort to thwart the growing tide of anti-Semitic episodes.

“JCCs have demonstrated incredible resilience over the past several weeks, relying on long-practiced measures to ensure that we can safely and effectively serve communities across the continent,” said Doron Krakow, president and CEO of JCC Association of North America,

“We will not allow anti-Semitism to get in the way of our providing our invaluable programs, and we urge Attorney General Sessions to be an even stronger partner to us.”

As Sessions Sidelines Himself, What’s Next in Russia Inquiries?


Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recusal leaves any Justice Department investigation of alleged Russian election interference temporarily in the hands of an official who began his career as a prosecutor under President Ronald Reagan and was promoted by Barack Obama.

Sessions on Thursday stepped aside from taking any role in federal inquiries into Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, including whether officials or surrogates had improper contacts with the Russians. Sessions had a meeting last year in his office with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States, which he said was unrelated to the campaign.

That means it’s the job of Acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente to oversee any investigations related to the presidential campaigns by the FBI or Justice Department attorneys.

Boente — who started at the DOJ under Reagan and then rose through the ranks — would give up that authority when and if a permanent deputy is confirmed. In 2015, Obama promoted him to U.S. attorney in Alexandria, Virginia.

The White House has nominated the U.S. attorney in Baltimore, Rod Rosenstein, a Republican veteran of George W. Bush’s administration, to the position. His confirmation hearing is scheduled for Tuesday.

Beyond that, the course of any investigation is unclear, and several important questions can’t yet be answered.

One of them is what Sessions’ announcement actually means.

Sessions said that he’s recusing himself from “any existing or future investigations of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for president of the United States.”

Image: Jeff Sessions walks away from the podium
Attorney General Jeff Sessions leaves a press conference on Thursday. Nicholas Kamm / AFP – Getty Images

The Federal Election Commission categorizes presidential campaigns by campaign cycles, which are generally considered to end on Election Day.

By that strict definition, Sessions could say he’s withdrawing from any investigation of alleged impropriety occurring up to and including Nov. 8 — and that he could potentially step back in if an allegation surfaces about anything that may have happened later.

Sessions left the door open for that possibility in an interview on Fox News on Thursday night.

Take, for example, the controversy surrounding Michael Flynn, who resigned as Trump’s national security adviser on Feb. 13. NBC News has confirmed that Flynn and Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, had what was described as a “brief courtesy meeting” with Kislyak in December — after Election Day.

Asked by Fox News host Tucker Carlson whether his recusal applied to investigations of Flynn, Sessions said: “If something else comes up that’s not related to the campaign, we would go through the same process — to see if I should not be involved in the case.”

So what can the Justice Department do to ensure an independent investigation?

It could appoint an independent special counsel to oversee any inquiries — something Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York and many other Democrats urged Boente to do. (Schumer went even further, calling on Sessions to resign.)

Special counsels are appointed only in the most sensitive cases. There hasn’t even been one since Pat Fitzgerald wrapped up his investigation of who leaked the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame during George W. Bush’s presidency.

The U.S. Code sets out specific criteria to justify appointing a special counsel. First the attorney general or his or her proxy must determine that a criminal investigation is warranted.

Image: Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions
President Donald Trump speaks alongside Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Feb. 9. SAUL LOEB / AFP – Getty Images

Sessions stressed Thursday that he couldn’t confirm or deny that there is any investigation at all.

Second, the attorney general or his or her proxy must determine that it would be a conflict of interest for the department or a U.S. attorney’s office to conduct the investigation. Both determinations will now be up to Boente or Resenstein.

During his years in the Senate representing Alabama Sessions made it clear that he believes special counsels should be appointed to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest.

As recently as Nov. 5 — three days before the election and more than eight months after he began campaigning for Trump — Sessions co-wrote an editorial column on the Fox News website calling on Loretta Lynch, the attorney general at the time, to appoint a special counsel to investigate Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.

“We are concerned about the egregious damage that has been inflicted on two revered government agencies: the Department of Justice and Department of State,” Sessions wrote, along with Rudy Giuliani and three other former Justice Department officials.

“You should never politicize criminal investigations or prosecutions,” Sessions said in an interview on CNBC the next day. Lynch, he said, “knows who appointed her, and she knows whose pleasure she serves at. So we need an independent person, a person that’s not politically connected.”

Boente hasn’t spoken publicly about the matter, and it’s unlikely that he will. Until and unless he or Rosenstein do, the bottom line is that — as Sessions himself said Thursday night in an interview on Fox News — the process “will just have to play out.”

Trump: Sessions ‘did not say anything wrong’


(CNN)President Donald Trump stood by Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday, releasing a statement saying Sessions did not make any misleading statements under oath during his confirmation hearings, but that he could have been more accurate in his responses to lawmakers.

“Jeff Sessions is an honest man. He did not say anything wrong. He could have stated his response more accurately, but it was clearly not intentional,” Trump said. “This whole narrative is a way of saving face for Democrats losing an election that everyone thought they were supposed to win. The Democrats are overplaying their hand. They lost the election and now, they have lost their grip on reality. The real story is all of the illegal leaks of classified and other information. It is a total witch hunt!”
Earlier Thursday, Sessions bowed to intense political pressure and recused himself from any investigation related to Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
Sessions acted after it emerged that he had failed at his Senate confirmation hearing to disclose two pre-election meetings with Russia’s ambassador to Washington, at a time when Moscow was accused of interfering in the presidential race.
“I have decided to recuse myself from any existing or future investigations of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for President of the United States,” Sessions told reporters.
Later Thursday night, on Fox News, Sessions said he plans to submit a “supplement” to the record of his congressional testimony, detailing the meetings he didn’t mention at the time.
“My response went to the question indicated about the continuing surrogate relationship that I firmly denied and correctly denied, and I did not mention in that time that I had met with the ambassador,” Sessions told host Tucker Carlson. “So I will definitely make that a part of the record as I think is appropriate.”
Sessions explained that he plans to recuse himself from any investigations into the campaign, but he would take decisions on investigations into Russian hacking “on a case-by-case basis.”
Sessions said the decision to recuse himself followed his promise to the Senate Judiciary Committee to avoid any semblance of a conflict of interest between his new role and previous position as a strong supporter of the Trump campaign. It was also the result of consultations with career Justice Department officials, he said.
The attorney general’s news conference was the culmination of a day of steadily rising political pressure over the issue. Democrats demanded he resign and accused him of lying to Congress. Many Republicans, feeling the political heat and growing increasingly concerned that the Russian drama was about to spin out of control, had been forced to call for Sessions to offload ultimate responsibility for an FBI probe into links between Trump’s campaign and Russia.
Sessions went ahead and did just that, despite strong support from the White House.
Aboard an aircraft carrier in Virginia, Trump told reporters he had “total” confidence in Sessions. Asked if Sessions should recuse himself, the President said: “I don’t think so.”
White House spokesman Sean Spicer meanwhile billed the day of controversy arising from news of the meetings between Sessions and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak as a “partisan thing that we’ve seen over and over again.”
“This continues to be a question of: there’s no there there,” Spicer said.
If nothing else, Thursday’s intrigue served as another reminder that questions over Trump’s attitude toward Moscow and the Kremlin’s apparent operation to sow discord in last year’s election are issues that will return again and again to confound the White House.
In this case, questions about Russia served to halt the President’s victory lap after his well-received address to Congress on Tuesday night.
The Russian drama has already led to the departure of another Trump ally and top political appointee — former national security adviser Michael Flynn — also over contacts with Russian ambassador Kislyak.
Earlier on Thursday, Democrats had sensed new vulnerabilities for the administration over Russia — and relished taking the battle to Sessions.
“(That) the top cop in our country lied under oath to the people is grounds for him to resign,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters Thursday. “He has proved that he is unqualified and unfit to serve in that position of trust.”
Several Republicans, many of them increasingly uneasy about the implications of the evolving Russian drama, had called on Sessions to recuse himself from any probe into ties between the Trump campaign and Moscow.
“Attorney General Sessions should recuse himself to ensure public confidence in the Justice Department’s investigation,” said Sen. Susan Collins, the Maine Republican who introduced Sessions at his confirmation hearing in January.
“I think the attorney general should further clarify his testimony. And I do think he should recuse himself,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee. Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio and Rep. Darrell Issa of California also called for Sessions to recuse himself.
But Sessions appeared to take the edge off Republican anxiety with his late afternoon news conference.
“Attorney General Sessions did the right thing by recusing himself,” said Republican House Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-West Virginia, told CNN: “I think if he made that judgment I think that’s in the best interest of everything. I’m glad he did it quickly.”
Sessions met on two separate occasions with Russia’s ambassador to Washington, encounters the Alabama Republican did not disclose during his confirmation hearing on January 10.
At the hearing, Minnesota Democratic Sen. Al Franken asked Sessions what he would do if there was any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government.
“I’m not aware of any of those activities. I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians,” Sessions said.
Franken told CNN’s “New Day” on Thursday that statement appears to be false.
“I am going to be sending (Sessions) a letter to have him explain himself, but he made a bald statement that during the campaign he had not met with the Russians,” Franken said. “That’s not true.”
On Twitter, Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren warned that Sessions should never have been confirmed at all, but now there is reason to remove him.
“Now Jeff Sessions is AG — the final say on the law enforcement investigation into ties between the Trump campaign & Russia? What a farce. This is not normal,” she tweeted. “This is not fake news. This is a very real & serious threat to the national security of the United States.”
With Sessions’ decision, oversight of any probe involving Trump’s 2016 campaign will likely fall to acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente. Democrats would prefer the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate questions about Russia but appear to lack sufficient leverage to bring about such a step.

Sessions: ‘This allegation is false’

Sessions has drawn a distinction between his role as a Trump surrogate and his duties as a senator and strongly denied ever discussing campaign-related issues with anyone from Russia.
“I never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign,” he said in a statement. “I have no idea what this allegation is about. It is false.”
Sessions’ spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said there was nothing “misleading about his answer” to Congress because he “was asked during the hearing about communications between Russia and the Trump campaign — not about meetings he took as a senator and a member of the Armed Services Committee.”
“Last year, the senator had over 25 conversations with foreign ambassadors as a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, including the British, Korean, Japanese, Polish, Indian, Chinese, Canadian, Australian, German and Russian ambassadors,” Isgur Flores said in the statement.

Meetings with Russian ambassador

According to the Justice Department, Sessions met with Kislyak in July on the sidelines of the Republican convention, and in September in his office when Sessions was a member of the Senate Armed Services committee. Sessions, then the junior senator from Alabama, was an early Trump backer and regular surrogate for him as a candidate.
Kislyak is considered by US intelligence to be one of Russia’s top spies and spy recruiters in Washington, according to current and former senior US government officials.
Kemlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov stated that Russia has never interfered and has no plans to ever interfere in the domestic affairs of other countries, speaking to journalists Wednesday.
This story has been updated.