Sessions intends to hold on to the job he loves
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.