Is Jeff Sessions Just Another one of many Russian Crony’s On The Trump/Putin Payroll?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Jeff Sessions just added even more smoke to the Trump-Russia story

Story highlights

  • Sessions attributed the oversight to advice he received from an FBI employee who helped him fill out the form.
  • If Trump truly believes that this whole thing is a made-up story, then he should be unrelentingly supportive of the Mueller investigation

(CNN) Attorney General Jeff Sessions failed to properly disclose his contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in a security clearance application, CNN reported on Wednesday night.

Sessions attributed the oversight to advice he received from an FBI employee who helped him fill out the form. The FBI employee told Sessions he didn’t need to note every interaction — especially passing ones — with foreign officials. So, Sessions didn’t.
This is not an uncommon occurrence. Phil Mudd, who spent time at the CIA and the FBI and now works as a counter-terrorism analyst for CNN, acknowledged Thursday morning on “New Day” that he, too, didn’t list every foreign official he came into contact with on his security clearance forms — comparing it to going 62 in an area where the speed limit is 55.
Fair enough.
The problem here for Sessions — and the Trump administration more broadly — is that the meetings the Attorney General failed to disclose are with the Russian ambassador. Not the ambassador to France or England or literally any other place in the world.
And that means the omissions matter. Because they land amid a federal investigation now being run by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and potential collusion with the Trump campaign. And two congressional investigations into the matter. And the firing of former national security adviser Michael Flynn due to his misleading comments about his own conversations with Kislyak. And the Russia ties of former Trump advisers Paul Manafort and Carter Page. And Sessions’ own recusal from the federal investigation due to his meetings with Kislyak. And the reports that Trump asked then FBI Director James Comey to drop the investigation into Flynn and the Russians during a Feb. 14 meeting.
You get the idea. There’s just a massive amount of smoke here. Is it possible that the smoke isn’t being produced by a fire, as Trump insists? Sure. But the growing amount of smoke belies Trump’s repeated insistence that the investigation is simply “fake news” or a “witch hunt.”
The public disagrees with Trump on this, too. In a new Fox News national poll, more than six in ten (61%) of people said they were concerned with reports of “Russian meddling in U.S. affairs,” as opposed to just 38% who said they weren’t concerned. Almost 7 in 10 (68%) approved of the appointment of a special counsel to look into Russia’s meddling and possible collusion with elements of the Trump campaign. People were split on whether they thought evidence would be found proving the Trump campaign coordinated with the Russians; 43 percent said they expected that to happen while 45 percent said they didn’t.
If Trump truly believes that this whole thing is a made-up story, then he should be unrelentingly supportive of the Mueller investigation. Because Mueller is the only person at this point who can clear away all the smoke and show that there is no fire. (Not even Trump can do that at this point — even if he wanted to. The story has gotten totally beyond his control.)
And yet, Trump continues to work to undermine Mueller and his findings. Which means that every development like this latest one with Sessions will just add more smoke to the story. At this point, there’s so much smoke surrounding Trump and Russia, it’s getting very hard to see.

Jeff Sessions: Completely Out Of Touch With Honesty Or Truth?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Friday ordered federal prosecutors to pursue the toughest penalties possible for criminal defendants. CreditMichael Reynolds/European Pressphoto Agency

WASHINGTON — As a senator, Jeff Sessions was such a conservative outlier on criminal justice issues that he pushed other Republicans to the forefront of his campaign to block a sentencing overhaul, figuring they would be taken more seriously.

Now Mr. Sessions is attorney general and need not take a back seat to anyone when it comes to imposing his ultratough-on-crime views. The effect of his transition from being just one of 535 in Congress to being top dog at the Justice Department was underscored on Friday when he ordered federal prosecutors to make sure they threw the book at criminal defendants and pursued the toughest penalties possible.

“This is a key part of President Trump’s promise to keep America safe,” Mr. Sessions said on Friday as he received an award from the New York City police union to mark the beginning of National Police Week.

Given Mr. Sessions’s long record as a zealous prosecutor and his well-known views on the dangers of drug use, his push to undo Obama-era sentencing policies and ramp up the war on drugs was hardly a surprise. But it was still striking, because it ran so contrary to the growing bipartisan consensus coursing through Washington and many state capitals in recent years — a view that America was guilty of excessive incarceration and that large prison populations were too costly in tax dollars and the toll on families and communities.

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In an increasingly rare achievement, conservatives and liberals had come together on the issue, putting them on the verge of winning reductions in mandatory minimum sentences and creating new programs to help offenders adjust to life after prison. Given the success shown by similar changes at the state level, bipartisan majorities in the House and the Senate seemed eager to move ahead on the issue last year.

Despite the strong support, stiff opposition from Mr. Sessions and a few other outspoken Republicans — Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia among them — stalled the bill in the Senate and sapped momentum from a simultaneous House effort.

As the 2016 elections approached, Senator Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican and majority leader, shied from bringing to the Senate floor the politically charged issue that had divided his party. So the effort died, much to the disappointment of the unusual cross-section of advocates behind it.

Backers of the sentencing overhaul say that Mr. Sessions, who as a senator from Alabama supported legislation that would have made a second marijuana trafficking conviction a capital crime, is living in the past and is badly misguided.

“Locking up people who don’t pose a threat to public safety is a waste of taxpayer money, a waste of resources and doesn’t deter crime,” said Steve Hawkins, the president of the Coalition for Public Safety, a sentencing reform advocacy group whose partners are as diverse as the liberal Center for American Progress and the conservative FreedomWorks.

These organizations, along with Koch Industries, argued for sentencing changes as a way to save governments the huge costs of maintaining prisons and to make more productive contributors out of nonviolent offenders — a rare win-win for ideologically divided factions.

The wide backing, which came as an opioid crisis was hitting economically struggling communities across America, struck a chord with Republicans who might usually balk at a less punitive model. Prominent Republican backers in the Senate included John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 party leader; Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the Judiciary Committee chairman, who was instrumental in advancing the legislation; and Mike Lee of Utah, a well-respected younger conservative.

But while these lawmakers saw an opportunity to take a new approach to sentencing and incarceration, Mr. Sessions was not convinced. Despite a broad decrease in crime in recent years, Mr. Sessions believed that a recent surge in violence in some cities showed that America was again at risk. An early backer of Mr. Trump, Mr. Sessions shared his stark vision of an urban America besieged by criminals, and argued that plea deals disguised the real nature of crimes committed by people portrayed as nonviolent.

Mr. Sessions repeatedly said that going soft on crime would accelerate a return to the days of drug-fueled criminality across the country — a point he reaffirmed on Friday.

“We know that drugs and crime go hand in hand,” he said. “Drug trafficking is an inherently violent business.”

In the Senate, Mr. Sessions was more than willing to cede the limelight on the issue to Mr. Cotton, a rising star among conservatives who referred to the Senate legislation as the “criminal leniency bill” and said America was suffering from an “under-incarceration” problem. But Mr. Sessions remained a crucial force.

“He’s been the No. 1 opponent of the bipartisan effort in the Senate to reduce mandatory minimums for low-level nonviolent drug offenses,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, who was one of the chief authors of the bipartisan bill.

Advocates of the sentencing changes say they hope that the unilateral move by Mr. Sessions will stir Congress to intervene and establish new policy through legislation. And Jared Kushner, the president’s adviser and son-in-law, has been assigned the job of working on a criminal justice overhaul, among other issues.

But pushing the bipartisan approach would require confronting the sitting attorney general and perhaps the president — a challenge many Republicans may not be willing to accept. None of the chief Republican backers of the Senate legislation issued any public reaction to the new Justice Department directive on Friday — not a good sign for proponents of an overhaul.

As a senator, Mr. Sessions succeeded in stalling the sentencing reform movement. As attorney general, he has sent it reeling in Washington, and it could be very hard for advocates to regain their footing while he is the nation’s chief law enforcement official.

Attorney General Orders Tougher Sentences, Rolling Back Obama Policy

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions has in the past suggested that prosecuting drug crimes more vigorously will broadly reduce other crime. CreditJim Lo Scalzo/European Pressphoto Agency

WASHINGTON — Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered federal prosecutors late Thursday to pursue the toughest possible charges and sentences against crime suspects, reversing Obama administration efforts to ease penalties for some nonviolent drug violations.

The drastic shift in criminal justice policy, foreshadowed during recent weeks, is Mr. Sessions’s first major stamp on the Justice Department, and it highlights several of his top targets: drug dealing, gun crime and gang violence. The Justice Department released the new directives on Friday.

In an eight-paragraph memo to the nation’s prosecutors, Mr. Sessions returned to the guidance of President George W. Bush’s administration by calling for more uniform punishments — including mandatory minimum sentences — and directing prosecutors to pursue the strictest possible charges. Mr. Sessions’s policy, however, is broader than that of the Bush administration, and will be more reliant on the judgments of United States attorneys and assistant attorneys general.

The policy signaled a return to “enforcing the laws that Congress has passed,” Mr. Sessions said on Friday at the Justice Department, characterizing his memo as unique for the leeway it afforded federal prosecutors around the country.

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“They deserve to be un-handcuffed and not micromanaged from Washington,” he said. “It means we are going to meet our responsibility to enforce the law with judgment and fairness. It’s simply the right and moral thing to do.”

The guidance allowed for limited exceptions. “There will be circumstances in which good judgment would lead a prosecutor to conclude that a strict application of the above charging policy is not warranted,” Mr. Sessions wrote.

His memo replaced the orders of former Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., who in 2013 encouraged prosecutors to consider the individual circumstances of a case and to exercise discretion in charging drug crimes. Mr. Holder directed prosecutors — when considering nonviolent defendants with insignificant criminal histories and no connections to drug trafficking or other criminal organizations — to omit details about drug quantities from charging documents so as not to lead to automatically harsh penalties.

Document: Memo by Sessions to U.S. Attorneys on Charges and Sentencing

Mr. Holder called the new policy “unwise and ill-informed,” saying it ignored consensus between Democrats and Republicans, and data demonstrating that prosecutions of high-level drug defendants had risen under his guidance.

“This absurd reversal is driven by voices who have not only been discredited but until now have been relegated to the fringes of this debate,” he said in a statement.

Supporters of Mr. Holder’s policy have argued that quantities of drugs are a weak indicator of how dangerous a person may be.

“Long sentences for low-level, nonviolent drug offenses do not promote public safety, deterrence and rehabilitation,” Mr. Holder wrote in his 2013 memo, noting that in fact they exacerbate an expensive, overburdened prison system. The Obama administration, which led a bipartisan push for more lenient and flexible sentencing laws, presided over the first decline in the federal prison population in a generation.

Mr. Sessions’s memo explicitly mentioned Mr. Holder’s 2013 directive in a footnote and rescinded it effective immediately.

Mr. Sessions’s policy was most similar to one issued by Attorney General John Ashcroft in 2003. Then, Mr. Ashcroft outlined six specific types of “limited exceptions” in his memo — which ran nearly four times the length of Mr. Sessions’s new guidance, and repeatedly referenced particular federal statutes. Mr. Sessions, by contrast, outlined no specific scenarios and provided little detail.

Instead, he simply directed prosecutors to “carefully consider whether an exception may be justified.” He said any exceptions to ease criminal penalties must be documented and approved by United States attorneys, assistant attorneys general or their designees.

“There’s a long history of these memos saying both that prosecutors should charge the most serious, readily provable offense, but also that prosecutors should exercise some discretion,” said David Alan Sklansky, a law professor at Stanford University who specializes in criminal justice. “There’s tension between those two things.”