Jeff Sessions opens up to Tucker Carlson
On Thursday, July 27, 2017, Tucker Carlson scored the first on-camera interview with embattled Attorney General Jeff Sessions since Sessions began to be criticized – some would describe it as attacked – by President Donald Trump in tweets and comments the POTUS has made in recent interviews.
The interview ran at the start of Carlson's Fox News channel program that airs nightly at 8 P.M. E.T. Carlson traveled to El Salvador to snag the interview, which was recorded outdoors on the grounds of the U.S. Embassy. He went on to host the first part of his live program from San Salvador, the country's capital, before turning the rest of the hosting duties over to Laura Ingraham in Washington, D.C.
Fox News described the occasion of A.G. Sessions's trip to Central America:
Sessions was in El Salvador Thursday as part of a two-day trip meant to bolster cooperation with the Central American nation in the fight against the MS-13 street gang, which Sessions has described as a top security threat to the United States.
According to the AP, which also interviewed Sessions on Thursday for a print article:
In San Salvador, Sessions met his Salvadoran counterpart, Douglas Melendez, and congratulated him on charges laid over the last two days against more than 700 gang members, many of them from MS-13, said the Justice Department.
He also met members of an international anti-gang task force at an event where an FBI agent described MS-13 as a highly coordinated and well-organized gang whose imprisoned leaders order violence in the U.S. from their prisons in El Salvador.
MS-13 is an international criminal enterprise with tens of thousands of members in several Central American countries and many U.S. states. The gang originated in immigrant communities in Los Angeles in the 1980s then entrenched itself in Central America when its leaders were deported.
In 2016, Sessions was in his fourth term as a U.S. senator from Alabama. He was the first Republican senator to endorse Donald Trump for the presidency, and he campaigned actively for Trump leading up to the election. Sessions was confirmed as the new administration's attorney general last February, but he almost immediately he recused himself from any oversight role in the Justice Department's ongoing investigation into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians. This recusal pretty much led directly to Deputy A.G. Rod Rosenstein's appointment of former FBI director Robert J. Mueller III as a special counsel heading up the collusion investigation. Mueller's appointment has turned out to be an ongoing irritant and distraction to the Trump administration, especially as he appears to be expanding his investigation into areas beyond potential Russian involvement in the 2016 U.S. election.
According to ABC News:
The first shot across the bow for Sessions came in a July 19 interview with the New York Times interview that highlighted the president's frustration over Sessions' recusal. "If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, 'Thanks, Jeff, but I'm not going to take you.' It's extremely unfair – and that's a mild word – to the president'," Trump told the Times.
Since then, Trump has fired out tweets relaying his dismay with Sessions multiple times and commented on the "unfairness" of his recusal in a joint press conference from the Rose Garden.
In recent days, speculation among the commentariat has swirled around the possibility that Sessions will resign or be fired as the A.G.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, San Salvador, July 27, 2017.
Fox News's public relations department provided a transcript of the interview with Sessions almost immediately after the first airing of Carlson's program. Attribution is to Fox News Channel's Tucker Carlson Tonight (weeknights at 8P.M. E.T.).
TUCKER CARLSON: You've seen the president's criticism of you. Do you think it's fair?
ATTORNEY GENERAL JEFF SESSIONS: Well, it's kind of hurtful, but the President of the United States is a strong leader. He is determined to move this country in the direction he believes it needs to go to make us great again and he has had a lot of criticisms and he's steadfastly determined to get his job done and he wants all of us to our jobs and that's what I'm going to do.
CARLSON: He has said again and again in many different forums of this barrage, you should have acted differently. You should not have recused yourself of oversight of the Russian investigation. Do you agree with that?
SESSIONS: Well you know, I understand his feelings about it, because this has been a big distraction for him. But, Tucker, I thought the experts in the Department of Justice, people who are trained in that, I'm confident I made the right decisions. A decision that's consistent for the Rule of Law and an Attorney General who doesn't follow the law is not very effective in leading the Department of Justice.
So I think as with 15 years in the department, having served in that great department, knowing the integrity that's required of the Attorney General, I believe I made the right decision.
CARLSON: You said the criticism was hurtful and the president has made it really clear that he doesn't seem to want you to run the Department of Justice. Will you continue to run the…
SESSIONS: Well, to make that clear, at any time I serve at the pleasure of the president.
SESSIONS: If he wants to make a change he can certainly do so and I would be glad to yield in that circumstance; no doubt about it. But I do believe that we're making tremendous progress. I can feel the movement that we're doing. We had a 25 percent increase in prosecution of criminals with guns just this last quarter; the first real quarter that I've been in office. We have – prosecutions are going to be up. Production is going to be up, with no new resources; not a single new United States Attorney onboard. We're going to lead this department effectively. He believes that we should let in the lawlessness (INAUDIBLE) immigration, as do I.
We share such a common interest there. We've already seen a 50 percent reduction in that. We're stepping up prosecutions across the country. They are dealing with this trans-national criminal organizations. It was a direct executive order he gave to us and so we're stepping up, particularly this MS13 gang of criminal violence out there, that's all over our country, but also meeting here today, to work with the local Attorney General here. He's making great progress.
And I think the partnership we have for several months now has helped encourage him and support him in his very bold efforts that are hurting MS13 right here in El Salvador. So that kind of thing is what's exciting to me. We've achieved, in many ways, more than I thought at this point in time.
CARLSON: Can you tell us anything about criminal investigation into intelligence leaks? You've apparently started.
SESSIONS: Well, look, I have not been happy with the past prosecutions and investigations of criminal leaks. We've already taken a number of steps. Tucker, we'll have multiple times – we'll have a press conference next week about it, but we already have multiples, numbers of prosecutions compared to last year at this time. We're stepping up those cases. It cannot continue. So people need to go to jail. If we can make cases that are going to jail, that would be our efficacy -- our advocacy, which we have been working on before and the president has every right to ask the Department of Justice to be more aggressive in that and we intend to.
CARLSON: Do you have any conversations scheduled with the president on your calendar?
SESSIONS: I don't think it's on the calendar yet. People have talked about it at the White House. But I believe that I understand his mission. I understand his goals. That's why I supported him for president. I share his beliefs that we've got to do more about crime, more about illegal immigration, more about gangs and violence and it's an honor and a pleasure to be able to lead that effort.
Peter Barry Chowka is a veteran journalist who writes about national politics, media, popular culture, and health care. His new website is AltMedNews.net. Peter's July 13, 2017 one-hour interview on The Hagmann Report can be viewed here.