WASHINGTON ― Attorney General Jeff Sessions has come out swinging against a bipartisan drug sentencing reform bill that has the support of many of his former Republican colleagues in the Senate, warning that the legislation would be a “grave error” and not allow adequate punishment for “a highly dangerous cohort of criminals.”
In a Feb. 14 letter to his former colleague Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sessions wrote that he “strongly” urged the Senate to consider the ramifications of the bill.
“In recent years, convicted drug traffickers and other violent criminals have received significant sentencing breaks from the federal courts and the United States Sentencing Commission.” Sessions wrote. “Passing this legislation to further reduce sentences for drug traffickers in the midst of the worst drug crisis in our nation’s history would make it more difficult to achieve our goals and have potentially dire consequences.”
The Iowa senator said on Twitter Wednesday that he was “incensed” by Sessions’ letter, saying it was not the proper role of the attorney general.
Grassley said the “bipartisan compromise ensures that these consequences fit their crimes by targeting violent and career criminals who prey on the innocent while giving nonviolent offenders with minimal criminal histories a better chance to become productive members of society.”
On Thursday, Grassley fumed at Sessions during a Senate Judiciary Committee markup hearing.
“When I read his letter, it was almost as if Senator Sessions was back on the Judiciary Committee,” Grassley said. “But that’s the problem. He is now the attorney general and is charged with executing the laws that Congress passes, not interfering with the legislative process.”
If Sessions wanted to be involved in the markup process for the legislation, “maybe he should have quit his job and run for the Republican Senate seat in Alabama,” Grassley said.
Grassley said that both he and Sessions believe in being tough on crime. “But I also believe in being fair. This is a view shared by the last Republican attorney general, Michael Mukasey, who testified in support of this bill last Congress. So, we have one Republican attorney general who thinks this bill is good policy, and one who has some concerns,” Grassley said.
Last week, Grassley said the bill was “stuck” without support from the Trump administration.
Read the letter below.
This article has been updated to include Grassley’s remarks at Thursday’s hearing.
Ryan Reilly is HuffPost’s senior justice reporter, covering federal law enforcement, criminal justice and legal affairs. Have a tip? Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Signal at 202-527-9261.