Ses­sions in­tends to hold on to the job he loves

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Amer­ica’s top law en­force­ment of­fi­cer wan­dered through a Sal­vado­ran jail, siz­ing up the tat­tooed gang mem­bers who sat with their backs to him on the con­crete floors of their cells. His soft voice was barely au­di­ble over the down­pour pelt­ing the tin roof as he spoke to the lo­cal po­lice.

In the midst of a week when his role - and fu­ture - in Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s Cab­i­net was in se­ri­ous doubt, US At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions could be found thou­sands of miles away from Washington, sur­rounded by con­certina wire and sol­diers with ri­fles. Be­lit­tled by his boss back home, he vowed not to loosen his grip on the job that he loves.

For Ses­sions, lead­ing the Jus­tice De­part­ment is an op­por­tu­nity to make tan­gi­ble progress on is­sues he long cham­pi­oned, some­times in iso­la­tion among fel­low Repub­li­cans, dur­ing two decades in the U.S. Se­nate: hard-line im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies and ag­gres­sive pros­e­cu­tions of gangs, drugs and gun crime. His pri­or­i­ties mark a de­par­ture for a de­part­ment that, dur­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, in­creas­ingly fo­cused on pre­vent­ing high-tech at­tacks from abroad, white-col­lar crime and the threat of home­grown vi­o­lent ex­trem­ism.

Yet Ses­sions’ pol­icy fo­cus is of­ten over­shad­owed by the ex­pand­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Trump cam­paign ties to Rus­sia. Ses­sions, whose own cam­paign con­tacts with Rus­sia’s am­bas­sador to the U.S. have been ques­tioned, has stepped aside from the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. That un­nerved Trump, who sub­jected his at­tor­ney gen­eral to al­most daily pub­lic hu­mil­i­a­tion this past week.

Ses­sions was try­ing to weather the storm in San Sal­vador, where on a balmy af­ter­noon his at­ten­tion turned to the no­to­ri­ously bru­tal street gang MS-13, whose vi­o­lence in the U.S. has be­come a fo­cal point in the im­mi­gra­tion de­bate. Here was the for­mer Alabama sen­a­tor, trav­el­ing El Sal­vador’s streets in a mo­tor­cade along­side lead­ers of the Jus­tice De­part­ment’s crim­i­nal di­vi­sion, buoyed by re­as­sur­ances from con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans in Washington af­ter Trump’s tirade.

The trip was planned be­fore the firestorm, but Ses­sions hoped his work on MS-13 would help mend his tat­tered re­la­tion­ship with Trump. “It hasn’t been my best week for my re­la­tion­ship with the pres­i­dent,” Ses­sions told The Associated Press. “But I be­lieve with great con­fi­dence that I un­der­stand what’s needed in the De­part­ment of Jus­tice and what Pres­i­dent Trump wants. I share his agenda.”

Rebel with a cause

Ses­sions cut his teeth as a fed­eral pros­e­cu­tor in Mo­bile, Alabama, at the height of the drug war, an ex­pe­ri­ence that has shaped his ap­proach to run­ning the Jus­tice De­part­ment. Al­le­ga­tions of racially charged re­marks cost him a fed­eral judge­ship, but he went on to be­come the state’s at­tor­ney gen­eral. He was elected to the Se­nate in 1996 and de­vel­oped a will­ing­ness to break with fel­low Repub­li­cans in ways that some­times left him on the side­lines.

He fought against ef­forts to over­haul the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem last year, a rare area where con­ser­va­tives and lib­er­als had found unity. He also was a lead­ing op­po­nent of the 2013 bi­par­ti­san bill that sought to ease im­mi­gra­tion re­stric­tions. That is­sue drew him to Trump. Ses­sions was the first sen­a­tor to en­dorse the busi­ness­man-turned-politi­cian. Trump re­warded that sup­port by nam­ing Ses­sions as at­tor­ney gen­eral. — AP


SAN SAL­VADOR: US At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions walks past a cell dur­ing a tour of lo­cal Po­lice Sta­tion and De­ten­tion Cen­ter.

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