Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III is a man out of time, a holdover from an age when some people believed that certain groups were exempt from the rule of law. He may be out of time in another way, too: His days as attorney general might be numbered.
Even in the Senate, Sessions was something of a fringe figure on the far right. Then he had the foresight or good timing to be one of the first politicians to get on board the Trump train. Sessions quickly moved, in the words of one headline, “from the fringe to prime-time.”
How extreme is Jeff Sessions? The head of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project, Heidi Beirich, reviewed Session’s comments about Muslims and immigrants and concluded he had engaged in “hate speech.” She calls the new extent of Sessions’ influence “a tragedy for American politics.”
Sessions once described the N.A.A.C.P. and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference as “un-American” and “Communist inspired.” As Alabama’s Attorney General, he used a traditionally segregationist state’s-rights argument to defend what historian Thomas Sugrue called that state’s system of “separate and unequal education.”
Segregationist South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond once said that he and Sessions “think alike, act alike and vote alike.” Sen. Edward M. Kennedy called him “a throwback to a shameful era.” Coretta Scott King wrote that Sessions had “used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters.”
The question now is, do Sessions and Trump believe that everyone is equal in the eyes of the law? There’s compelling evidence that Sessions committed perjury. When asked by Sen. Al Franken at his confirmation hearing if “anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign,” Sessions replied:
Sen. Franken, 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.
It turns out that he did, twice.
Richard Painter, who was the White House ethics lawyer under President George W. Bush, says that “Mr. Sessions did not truthfully and completely testify,” and makes a convincing case for his resignation or dismissal.
Sessions said this about perjury charges against then-President Bill Clinton: “In America, the Supreme Court and the American people believe no one is above the law.”
Does he really believe that? Consider this timeline:
On Thursday, February 23, Sessions announced that the Justice Department would suspend an Obama-era ban on doing business with private, for-profit prison companies. That means the United States government has once again embraced the mass incarceration industry.
In less than a week, Sessions and Trump made three moves that selectively bring the weight of law enforcement down on minorities and the poor.
There is a long-standing pattern of discrimination in prison sentencing. For-profit prison corporations make money from the commodification of black bodies. That’s a shameful tradition as old as the nation itself, and it just received a new lease on life.
On Tuesday, February 28, Sessions announced that the Justice Department would “pull back” on filing civil rights lawsuits against police departments who have engaged in patterns of discriminatory conduct.
Later that evening, President Trump announced the creation of a new law enforcement organization that will focus exclusively on crimes committed by immigrants – even though immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans.
In less than a week, Sessions and Trump made three moves that selectively bring the weight of law enforcement down on minorities and the poor. Then, on Thursday, March 2, Sessions declined to resign over his senate testimony.
The problem isn’t Russia. Democrats have been overly eager to embrace a report from intelligence chief James Clapper regarding Russian involvement in last year’s presidential election. That report is poorly written and unsubstantiated, but it allows the Democratic establishment to evade responsibility for a series of systematic political failures. Ironically, Clapper also appears to have perjured himself in senate testimony.
Nevertheless, serious questions have been raised about the Trump campaign and Russian interests. These questions must be answered.
Unfortunately, Clapper’s report ignores the most promising and well-documented line of investigation: the web of business relationships between Russia, Trump, and Trump associates like Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Instead of exploring these connections, the Clapper report scapegoats left-wing political speech instead.
The American people deserve answers the Clapper report doesn’t provide. There must be an independent investigation into the election. Sessions did not promise that, and leaders of both parties should demand it. They should also make it clear that no one is above the law, by demanding an independent criminal investigation of Sessions’ Senate testimony.
Recusal is not enough. Jeff Sessions has shown that he is not fit to serve as attorney general. In the name of equal justice for all, he must resign.