Posts tagged with "AG Jeff Sessions"

Deputy AG Rosenstein to depart DOJ following wrap-up of Russia probe

January 10, 2019

With a new AG pick expected to face confirmation hearings starting next week, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein—who has been riding herd on the Russia probe (and taking the heat for it) since Jeff Sessions recused himself back in 2017—is planning to step down, NBC News reports.

Rosenstein long had intended to serve just about two years as the Justice Department’s number-two official, contacts in the know told the network news outlet. They assert that this is his own plan—and that he is not being forced out by the White House, although there certainly is no love lost there.

After demanding and receiving Sessions’ resignation in November , President Donald Trump nominated William Barr, who planned to be at the Capitol this week for a round of courtesy calls with senators ahead of his confirmation process, which starts on January 15.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders commented to Fox News: “I don’t think there’s any willingness by the president or the White House to push him out …. My guess is he is making room for the new attorney general to build a team that he wants around him.”

Rosenstein’s intentions were first reported by ABC News. He did not respond to questions on Wednesday morning.

ABC News also reported on January 9 that the president’s nominee for attorney general, William Barr, said he doesn’t think that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is on a “witch hunt,” doesn’t think he should be fired and is committed to making sure that Mueller finishes his investigation, according to Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina).

Research contact: @PeteWilliamsNBC

Clarification: Late on January 9, NBC News reported that “a source close to Rosestein [had] said he intends to stay on until Mueller’s investigative and prosecutorial work id done. The source said that would mean Rosenstein would remain until early March.”

Standoff on Special Counsel Act persists between Flake and McConnell

November  19, 2018

Senator Jeff Flake (R-Arizona)—who is leaving the U.S. Congress in December, but flirting with a primary run against President Trump in 2020—has everything to win and little to lose. Last week, he pushed that advantage by taking to the Senate floor with across-the-aisle colleague Senator Chris Coons (D-Delaware.) in an attempt to secure immediate passage of S. 2644, the Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act.

The bill, which passed the Senate Judiciary Committee in April by a bipartisan vote of 14-7, once again was blocked by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), who continues to say that the legislation to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation is not necessary because the probe is not under pressure.

However, following the president’s removal of Attorney General Jeff Sessions one day after the midterm elections—and subsequent appointment of Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, a White House acolyte—Flake asserted, “The president now has this investigation in his sights and we all know it.”

And he backed that assertion with two threats: One further note on this unanimous consent request: because it has failed today, Senator Coons and I are prepared to raise it again and again, until there is a vote on this vital bipartisan legislation on the Senate floor. And I have informed the Majority Leader that I will not vote to advance any of the 21 judicial nominees pending in the Judiciary Committee, or vote to confirm the 32 judges awaiting a confirmation vote on the floor, until S. 2644 is brought to the full Senate for a vote.”

At a closed-door lunch on the following day, November 15, both Flake and McConnell were equally implacable. “It’s a standoff,” said a Republican senator who attended the lunch, in an interview with The Hill.

According to the political news outlet, McConnell argued at the lunch meeting that the legislation would chew up precious floor time during the lame-duck session and leave less time for must-pass bills such as the unfinished spending bills and the farm bill, according to sources familiar with the conversation.

Flake, who is retiring at the end of this Congress, didn’t buy that argument. Flake argued that the bill could be dealt with in a day as long as other members of the GOP conference didn’t object to it and force McConnell to waste time getting through a filibuster.

Some Republican senators floated the compromise of crafting some kind of non-binding resolution that would express support for protecting Mueller and future special counsels from unjustified dismissal. But Flake rejected that option, too, The Hill reported.

Asked Thursday if fellow GOP senators are unhappy with his hardball approach to getting a vote, Flake said, “That’s a safe assumption.”

Meanwhile, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) held over 15 judicial nominees at a committee business meeting Thursday after Flake declared he would block them. Speaking to reporters afterward, Grassley said he didn’t think he could move any more nominees without Flake’s support, unless he can convince Democrats on the panel to vote with him.

As the impasse continued, a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone and online survey found that 40% of likely U.S. voters believe Mueller’s investigation should be closed. Fifty-one percent (51%) think the probe of Russian collusion in the 2016 presidential election should continue.

Research contact: @alexanderbolton

Three more administration officials head toward Trump’s losers’ circle

November 15, 2018

Insiders at the White House might be humming Ariana Grande’s “thank u, next,” as—just a week after requesting the resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions—the president prepares once again to reconfigure his cabinet and West Wing staff.

First on the list of goners is almost certainly Kirstjen Nielsen, the secretary of Homeland Security. She has long been a target of Trump’s tirades, three people close to the president told The New York Times for a November 13 report. Indeed, the POTUS had floated the idea of dismissing Nielsen ahead of his trip to Paris for World War I commemoration ceremonies.

And if Nielsen goes, one of her strong supporters may be ousted, too. Internally at the White House, the Times said, removing Nielsen is perceived as a way for President Trump to push out White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, without directly firing him.

Although, the news outlet said, Trump and Kelly supposedly arrived at a plan earlier this year for the chief of staff to stay through the 2020 election, the POTUS privately has hinted that he would not bet on Kelly remaining in his job that long.

Kelly’s likely successor already is in the queue: Nick Ayers, the chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, long has been seen as a prospective replacement for Kelly, if and when he makes his exit—and is favored by the president’s family members, Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump Jr., and Jared Trump.

Finally, another administration official who is at or near the departures gate, following a run-in with First Lady Melania Trump, is Mira Ricardel, who serves as a deputy to National Security Adviser John Bolton.

Ricardel, who previously worked at the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill, had disparaged two members of the East Wing staff during the FLOTUS’s trip to Africa last month, a Times source said. She also is rumored to have tangled with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on issues of policy and Pentagon personnel.

The rift with Melania Trump hit the headlines this week when—in a highly unusual statement about West Wing personnel matters—a spokesperson for the first lady, Stephanie Grisham, addressed Ricardel’s status. “It is the position of the Office of the First Lady that she no longer deserves the honor of serving in this White House,” Grisham said.

Since the president hates interpersonal confrontation, he often delays dismissals and then delegates them to Kelly. How these next staff changes will be handled is anybody’s guess.

Research contact: @maggieNYT

Editor’s update (11/15): Mira Ricardel now has been removed from her national security job in the White House and will continue to serve the administration in another role.

In effort to intimidate voters, Trump and Sessions warn of fraud at polls

November 7, 2018

On the day before the midterm elections, November 5, President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued strong warnings about the threat of voter fraud —echoing what the Washington Post characterized as “the president’s baseless claims that massive voter fraud marred his 2016 election and prompting accusations that his administration is trying to intimidate voters.

In a tweet early Monday, Trump said that law enforcement has been “strongly notified” to watch for “ILLEGAL VOTING.” He promised that anyone caught voting improperly would be subjected to “Maximum Criminal Penalties.”

Sessions, in a statement laying out the Justice Department’s plans to monitor ballot access on Election Day, said “fraud in the voting process will not be tolerated. Fraud also corrupts the integrity of the ballot.

In remarks to reporters on his way to a campaign rally in Cleveland, Trump also falsely claimed that voter fraud is commonplace, the Washington Post said.

“Just take a look,” he said. “All you have to do is go around, take a look at what’s happened over the years, and you’ll see. There are a lot of people—a lot of people—my opinion, and based on proof—that try and get in illegally and actually vote illegally. So we just want to let them know that there will be prosecutions at the highest level.”

There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the United States, the Post reported, noting that the president had formed a commission to study the issue shortly after he took office that was disbanded without finding evidence of fraud after states refused to turn over voter data.

Voting rights advocates denounced Trump’s remarks as a blatant attempt to intimidate voters on the eve of Election Day—and part of a pattern among Republicans, they said, to curtail voting access with strict rules that disproportionately affect voters of color who tend to vote Democratic.

“I find this kind of conduct incredibly anti-patriotic,” Kristen Clarke, who leads the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a voting rights group that has successfully challenged several new voting restrictions across the country this year, told the Post. “At a time when we need our White House and Justice Department speaking out against the relentless campaign of voter suppression in this election cycle, it defies reason.”

Research contact: amy.gardner@washpost.com

With Trump ready to topple Rosenstein, Sen. Kamala Harris calls for bill to protect Russia probe

September 25, 2018

On September 24, Senator Kamala Harris (D-California) urgently called for the Senate to pass legislation that would protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller‘s Russia investigation—a move that came amidst scuttlebutt that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein expects to be fired this week by the White House, The Hill revealed.

Even as Senator Harris was appealing to her colleagues to save the probe—which Rosenstein oversees at the Department of Justice—the Deputy AG was meeting with White House Chief of Staff John Kelly with full expectations that Kelly would give him the axe. However, that did not happen—and Rosenstein did not resign—as the news outlet Axios had predicted that he would.

Instead, the Deputy AG now has been scheduled to meet with President Donald Trump on Thursday, when the POTUS returns from the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York City. (However, Trump had previously said that he would not sack either Attorney General Jeff Sessions or Rosenstein before the midterm elections. Also, it is not the president’s style to dismiss an employee personally; Trump would be expected to delegate that task, as usual.)

The reports of “a Saturday night-type massacre at the DOJ”—shades of the Nixon administration—came just days after The New York Times published an article claiming that in 2017 Rosenstein proposed surreptitiously taping President Trump, and that he discussed with DOJ colleagues the possibility of invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office.

Senator Harris appealed to her colleagues to protect the ongoing Russia inquiry, which, based on findings of a September 12 CNN poll, is supported by American voters by a 20-percentage-point margin. Respondents nationwide said they approve of Mueller (50%) over Trump (30%) when it comes to the handling of the Russia investigation.

“Republican leaders must allow [the investigation] to be voted on. We can no longer afford to wait. This is a matter of preserving the rule of law,” she said.

Harris’s call for legislative action was echoed by other Democratic senators, including  Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (New York) and Senator Patrick Leahy (Vermont).

“It is more urgent than ever that the Senate pass S.2644, the bipartisan bill to protect the independence of the Special Counsel,” Leahy said on Twitter. “If we do not defend the rule of law in these moments, we risk losing it.”

Leahy also noted in a later tweet, “Saturday Night Massacres don’t need to happen on a Saturday. If President Trump fires DAG Rod Rosenstein or forces his resignation, he will come one giant leap closer to directly meddling with the Special Counsel’s Russia investigation.

Senator Gillibrand said, “The Senate must step up to protect the Special Counsel immediately. We must pass the bipartisan bill to protect the Mueller investigation. The American people deserve answers about Russian interference in our democracy.”

Research contact: @JustinFWise

Trump to Sessions: ‘Stop the rigged witch hunt right now’

August 2, 2018

President Donald Trump is feeling the heat—and it is not environmental. On August 1, he implored Attorney General Jeff Sessions to end the federal investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections that is being helmed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

As usual, the president took to Twitter to make his intentions known. At 9:24 a.m., he tweeted, “This is a terrible situation and Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now, before it continues to stain our country any further. Bob Mueller is totally conflicted, and his 17 Angry Democrats that are doing his dirty work are a disgrace to USA!”

The angry “ask” came after a week in which the POTUS’s probable involvement in a Trump Tower meeting with the Russians in June 2016 grabbed headlines, thanks to a revelation by former Trump lawyer and “fixer” Michael Cohen.

In addition, Trump’s instructions to Sessions were issued on the second day of the Alexandria, Virginia-based federal trial of Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager. Manafort is accused of bank and tax crimes.

The media quickly characterized his tweet as a form of obstruction of justice. The Washington Post’s Carol Leonnig was prompt to report (also on Twitter) : “NEW: Trump lawyers tell me his tweets this morning are simply “his opinions” and not evidence of an ongoing effort to obstruct the Russia probe. @RudyGiuliani and @JaySekulow call in to explain @realDonaldTrump well-established practice.”

What’s more,  Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell ( 15th District, California) rapidly tweeted, “Just as a reminder, @realDonaldTrumps tweets are official statements. [Press Secretary] Sarah Sanders might try to spin it now into “opinion,” but Trump is telling his subordinate Jeff Sessions what he wants him to do: stop Mueller’s investigation.”

And progressive organization, MoveOn, commented, “If @real DonaldTrump sabotages #Mueller‘s #TrumpRussia investigation we will need to take swift action. Text ALERT to 668366 & head here: …http://www.trumpisnotabovethelaw.org” 

Presidents typically do not weigh in on ongoing Justice Department investigations, The New York Times said, “but … Trump has been outspoken about his anger and frustration with the Russia investigation, which predates his presidency and was later taken over by …. Mueller.…. Trump has also said that he never would have made … Sessions his attorney general if he knew … Sessions would recuse himself from the Russia inquiry.”

The special counsel is also looking into some of Trump’s tweets about. Sessions and the former FBI Director James Comey —and whether the messages were intended to obstruct justice, the Time said.

A CNN poll conducted by SSRS posted on June 22 found that most Americans continue to believe that the Russian effort to influence the 2016 presidential election is a serious matter that should be investigated, but the constant criticism by President Donald Trump of special counsel Robert Mueller is taking its toll. The number of Americans who approve of how Mueller is handling the investigation has dropped from 48% in March to 44% in May to just 41% [in June], the lowest it has been in CNN’s polling.

Mueller has a lot of company; no one connected with this matter is coming out of it in a positive light. According to CNN, his favorable rating is just 32%; former FBI Director James Comey’s favorability is just 28%; Rudy Giuliani, one of Trump’s lawyers in the Russia investigation, is viewed favorably by only 31% of Americans.

Research contact: @CNNPolitics

Trump administration to dismantle Affordable Care Act after midterms

June 11, 2018

One of the great advantages of Obamacare was that it enabled Americans with “pre-existing medical conditions”—from diabetes, to heart failure to cancer—to get coverage from insurance providers. Now, Politico reports, the Trump administration “is urging a federal court to dismantle” this provision—but to wait until after the midterm elections this year.

What’s more, the administration would like to see the very basis of the Affordable Care Act—the mandate for every U.S. citizen to get coverage—taken out of the bill as soon as December.

Both moves come in response to a lawsuit from conservative states seeking to entirely invalidate the act. Indeed, On June 7, the Justice Department told a judge in Texas who will rule on the case that Congress’ decision to repeal the penalty for failing to buy health insurance renders unconstitutional other Obamacare language banning insurers from charging people more or denying them coverage based on a pre-existing condition.

According to the Politico story, the Texas-led lawsuit— filed last February—claims that the recent elimination of Obamacare’s individual mandate penalty means that the whole healthcare law should now be ruled invalid. The mandate penalty was wiped out, effective as of 2019, as part of the GOP tax law passed late last year.

The administration’s evening filing says it agrees with states bringing the suit that the individual mandate is unconstitutional, as are two of the law’s major insurance provisions meant to protect people with expensive medical conditions. With the filing, the Trump administration is asking the courts to wipe out protections that many congressional Republicans were wary of eliminating in their failed efforts to repeal Obamacare.

And they are right to worry: Findings of a Monmouth University poll, released in March, show that 51% of Americans  would prefer to keep the Affordable Care Act and work to improve it, with another 7% saying that they want to keep the ACA entirely intact. Just four out of ten U.S. voters wants to see the act repealed, either with a replacement put in place (31%) or without one (8%).

The poll established that a majority support Obamacare, regardless of whether they get their coverage through an employer (57%), through a privately purchased plan (55%) or through publicly funded coverage (63%).

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan, acknowledged that the executive branch typically defends existing federal law, but he said this was a “rare case where the proper course” is to forgo defense of the individual mandate.

The administration’s decision means that a group of 15 Democratic states led by California will be largely responsible for defending  Obamacare against its latest legal threat, Politico said.

Research contact: pdmurray@monmouth.edu

Americans want prison reform. But do Trump and Sessions?

February 16, 2018

Findings of a poll released on February 13 by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation suggest that there is widespread public support for rehabilitation efforts in local criminal justice systems—as opposed to an emphasis on prosecution and punishment.

The study, conducted on behalf of the foundation by RTI International and Zogby Analytics, is just among the latest to show that Americans are generally in favor of  reforms such as reducing sentences for nonviolent offenders, which, in the past, have received bipartisan backing from elected officials.

However, these efforts remain large unsupported by current Attorney General Jeff Sessions and, until recently, they have not received more than lip-service from President Donald Trump.

The Trump administration has reduced support for prisoner halfway houses, according to a recent Reuters report, by cutting contracts with several facilities that operate as re-entry centers for inmates nearing release to help them transition back into the community. This move raised enough concern among legislators— including  Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC), John Cornyn (R-TX), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Rob Portman (R-OH), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Al Franken (D-MN), and Brian Schatz (D-HI)—to send a bipartisan letter expressing concern last October 27 to leaders of the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Prisons

“We believe that these changes in programming and personnel will compromise public safety, decrease inmate accountability, and lead to increased recidivism rates,” the Senators wrote.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions last year rescinded an Obama administration order that called for a reduction in the federal government’s use of private prisons, which were found to be less safe than government-run facilities. Sessions also called last year for federal prosecutors to pursue the toughest penalties possible for offenders, even for nonviolent drug offenses.

It was only in his State of the Union address last month that President Trump showed interest in rehabilitation, the foundation notes, saying that “This year we will embark on reforming our prisons to help former inmates who have served their time get a second chance.”

However, “that line stood in stark contrast to Trump’s past rhetoric and the administration’s tough-on-crime policy efforts,” the foundation noted in a public statement

The survey released by the MacArthur Foundation—a private organization that supports grants in a variety of policy areas—found that Americans support rehabilitation efforts for people in early phases in the justice system, particularly for those with mental illnesses, and backed treatment over prosecution in response to the opioid crisis.

Among the specific findings:

  • 60% of respondents said they believed the most important consideration when sentencing someone for a nonviolent crime was rehabilitation or treatment; only 23 percent said punishment.
  • 35% of respondents — a plurality — said they felt that the main role of jails was to prevent crime by providing treatment or services to inmates so that they develop skills that will help them avoid criminal activity. The second-most-popular response (23%) was that the purpose of jail was to prevent crime by removing people who had been convicted of crimes from the community.
  • 71% of respondents said rehabilitation or treatment is the most important consideration when sentencing someone who has been convicted of a nonviolent crime and has a mental illness.
  • A large majority (84%) of respondents said local governments should devote resources to providing substance abuse treatment to drug users; 52% said more resources should be devoted to prosecuting and jailing users.

Outside of Washington, criminal justice reform efforts that have been undertaken by states over the past decade, the foundation pointed out.

Since 2007 to 2016, 33 states have changed their sentencing and corrections policies through the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, a public-private partnership with the U.S. Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, the Pew Charitable Trusts and several other organizations, according to a report from Pew.

Research contact:  @kathryncasteel

AG’s marijuana ‘Prohibition’ exposes GOP to 2018 backlash

January 8, 2018

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has stated that he intends to “return to the rule of law,” starting a new era of 1920s-type Prohibition in the United States—this time, for marijuana rather than alcoholic beverages.

While the ban would not be mandatory—Sessions would allow federal prosecutors in areas where marijuana already is legal to decide how aggressively to enforce it—the intention is clear.

Sessions, a former Alabama senator, plainly said at an April 2016 hearing: “Good people don’t smoke marijuana.”

That may be what he believes, but U.S. citizens and their legislators are not happy about it. Indeed, pot legalization has been very popular nationwide: 64% percent of Americans favor it, based on results of an October 2017 Gallup poll.

“Sessions’s move just adds another weight to the ankles of vulnerable House Republicans in places like California and Colorado,” Brian Fallon, a former spokesperson for the Senate Democratic leadership and Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, told Bloomberg this week. “Given the support for decriminalization across political parties, and especially among young voters, this was an issue that progressives already should have been considering for state ballot measures. That is even truer now.”

Gardner—who doesn’t face re-election until 2020—has vowed to block Justice Department nominees from being confirmed unless Sessions reverses course, Bloomberg reports.

The question for Republicans is whether pushing back publicly will fuel Democratic opponents’ criticism during the upcoming, fiercely competitive midterm campaign.

The issue looms large in Colorado, Nevada and California, which legalized marijuana and where several congressional Republicans, including California Representative Dana Rohrabacher (48th District) , already are facing tough re-election battles.

“This is a freedom issue,” Rohrabacher said in a January 4 conference call with reporters, calling for a change in federal law to protect legal marijuana in states. “I think Jeff Sessions has forgotten about the Constitution and the 10th Amendment,” which gives powers to the states.

“By taking this benighted minority position, [Sessions] actually places Republicans’ electoral fortunes in jeopardy,” Rohrabacher said in a statement later Thursday.

The question for Republicans is whether whatever they choose to do now will fuel Democratic opponents’ criticism during the upcoming, fiercely competitive midterm campaign.

“It’s time for anyone who cares about this issue to mobilize and push back strongly against this decision,” said Representative Earl Blumenauer of Oregon (3rd District), a Democrat who is co-chairman of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus.

Research contact: @sahilkapur