Sessions cites Bible to defend immigration policies resulting in family separations

Attorney General Jeff Sessions cited the Bible on Thursday in defending the Trump administration’s immigration policies — especially those that result in the separation of families — directing his remarks in particular to “church friends.”

“I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes,” Sessions said. “Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves. Consistent, fair application of law is in itself a good and moral thing and that protects the weak, it protects the lawful. Our policies that can result in short-term separation of families are not unusual or unjustified.”

The Catholic Church and other religious leaders have voiced strong criticism of policies resulting in family separations and recent moves Sessions has made to restrict asylum.

On Wednesday, the president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops criticized the administration, declaring that separating mothers and children at the US border is “immoral.”

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the president of the organization, said in a statement, “Families are the foundational element of our society and they must be able to stay together. While protecting our borders is important, we can and must do better as a government, and as a society, to find other ways to ensure that safety. Separating babies from their mothers is not the answer and is immoral.”

Sessions said Thursday that recent criticisms are “not fair, not logical and some are contrary to plain law.”

“It’s not as if we just want to see if we can be mean to children. That’s not what this is about,” he said, saying he’s thought about this issue for years.

God told Nehemiah to build a wall when he got back to Jerusalem, Sessions said, once again referencing the Bible.

“That’s the first thing he told him to do,” Sessions said. “It wasn’t to keep people in. It was to keep bad people out. I don’t think there is a scriptural basis that justifies any idea that we must have open borders in the world today.”

Sessions repeated many of his recent comments that any separation from children is the fault of the parents who choose to bring them into the country illegally, and repeatedly said immigrants should “wait your turn” and try to come to the US legally. He disputed that he’s restricting asylum, saying he is merely restoring his view of what the law always has been.

He was referring to his recent use of a power of the attorney general, a political appointee, to overrule a board of immigration judges in their interpretation of the law. Sessions earlier this week announced a new interpretation of asylum law that reversed an earlier decision in declaring that victims of domestic violence and other crimes and violence are generally not eligible for asylum in the US.

“Noncitizens who cross our borders unlawfully, between our ports of entry, with children, are no exception to this principle,” Sessions said. “They are the ones who broke the law. They are the ones who endangered their children with this trek.”

He said the US goes through “extraordinarily lengths” to care for the children.

“I have considered the thoughts of church leaders over that time. And I am sympathetic to them. But I am a law officer. A law officer for a nation-state. A secular nation-state. Not a theocracy. It’s not a church. If we have laws — and I believe we have reasonable immigration laws — they should be enforced,” Sessions said. “My request to our religious leaders and friends who have criticized the carrying out of our laws: I ask them to speak up forcefully, strongly, to urge anyone who would come here to only come lawfully.”

[CNN]

Justice Department seizes reporter’s phone, email records in leak probe

The Department of Justice reportedly seized a New York Times reporter’s phone and email records this year in an effort to probe the leaking of classified information, the first known instance of the DOJ going after a journalist’s data under President Trump.

The Times reported Thursday that the DOJ seized years’ worth of records from journalist Ali Watkins’s time as a reporter at BuzzFeed News and Politico before she joined The Times in 2017 as a federal law enforcement reporter, according to the report Thursday.

Watkins was alerted by a prosecutor in February that the DOJ had years of records and subscriber information from telecommunications companies such as Google and Verizon for two email accounts and a phone number belonging to her.

Investigators did not receive the content of the records, according to The Times.

The newspaper reported that it learned of the letter on Thursday.

“It’s always disconcerting when a journalist’s telephone records are obtained by the Justice Department — through a grand jury subpoena or other legal process,” Watkin’s attorney Mark MacDougall said in a statement to The Times.

“Whether it was really necessary here will depend on the nature of the investigation and the scope of any charges.”

The Hill has reached out to the Justice Department for comment.

FBI agents reportedly contacted Watkins about a previous three-year romantic relationship with the Senate Intelligence Committee’s former director of security, James Wolfe, as part of a probe into unauthorized leaks.

Watkins reportedly did not answer the agents’ questions, however. Watkins told The Times that Wolfe did not act as a source for information during their relationship.

She also said she informed editors at BuzzFeed, Politico and The Times of the relationship.

BuzzFeed News editor Ben Smith declined to comment for the Times report, while Politico didn’t immediately respond for its request for comment.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced last year that the DOJ had tripled the number of leak investigations it was conducting compared to the Obama administration, which prosecuted more leak cases than all other administrations.

[The Hill]

Trump slams Jeff Sessions, suggests a different attorney general would have stopped Russia probe

President Donald Trump is blaming his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, for allowing the Russia investigation to continue. Trump tweets that he would have “picked someone else” for the top job at the Justice Department had he known Sessions would recuse himself from the probe.

It’s the latest salvo from Trump in his bid to discredit the ongoing probe by special counsel Robert Mueller. Mueller is investigating Russia’s attempts to sway voters in the 2016 election and whether Trump associates provided any help. He’s also investigating whether Trump obstructed justice by taking steps to shut down the probe

Trump tweeted Tuesday: “The Russian Witch Hunt Hoax continues, all because Jeff Sessions didn’t tell me he was going to recuse himself…I would have quickly picked someone else. So much time and money wasted, so many lives ruined…and Sessions knew better than most that there was No Collusion!”

[CNBC]

Trump pressured Sessions multiple times to resume control of Mueller investigation

According to a report at Axios, President Donald Trump pressured Attorney General Jeff Sessions multiple times to back out of his recusal and resume overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Trump’s administration.

According to the report, “A source with knowledge of the conversations said they occurred throughout last year, until fairly late in the year — not just in the short period after Sessions recused himself last March.”

Two sources confirmed Trump told Sessions he’d be a “hero” to conservatives if he did the “right thing” and resumed control over the Russia investigation. Additionally, Trump suggested to Sessions he’d be a hero if he launched an investigation of Hillary Clinton.

You can read the whole report here.

[Raw Story]

Trump: Wish I picked someone other than Sessions to head DOJ

President Trump on Wednesday said he regrets his decision to pick Jeff Sessions as attorney general, the latest sign of his growing anger over the Russia investigation.

Citing Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), who said earlier on CBS that Trump “could have picked somebody else” to lead the Justice Department, the president responded, “I wish I did!”

Gowdy was asked whether Trump obstructed justice when he reportedly asked Sessions early last year to reverse his decision to rescue himself from the Russia probe, an interaction reported Tuesday by The New York Times.

In comments later quoted by Trump, Gowdy said Trump was merely “expressing frustration that Attorney General Sessions should have shared these reasons for recusal before he took the job, not afterward.”

“There are lots of really good lawyers in the country, he could have picked somebody else!” Trump wrote, quoting Gowdy.

The president has lashed out at a variety of targets as the Russia investigation has moved closer to his inner circle, including special counsel Robert Mueller and now Sessions.

Sessions, a former Alabama senator and top Trump campaign backer, decided to recuse himself from the probe after it was revealed he had not disclosed contacts with Russia’s U.S. ambassador during the 2016 presidential race.

That decision angered Trump, who viewed it as the ultimate betrayal. The president has said publicly he wants an attorney general who will shield him legally and politically.

“If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, ‘Thanks, Jeff, but I’m not going to take you,’” Trump told the Times in July 2017. “It’s extremely unfair — and that’s a mild word — to the president.”

The Times reported that Mueller is probing the interaction between Sessions and the president in his effort to determine whether Trump obstructed the investigation into ties between Moscow’s election interference and the Trump campaign.

Trump, however, has not shied away from attacking Sessions, blasting him as “weak” for not heeding his calls to launch an investigation into 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and former FBI Director James Comey.

Aides say the president has not fired Sessions, however, because he understands it would draw even more legal and political backlash.

Instead, Trump has chosen to attack Mueller and his investigators in an effort to undermine the credibility of the probe.

Gowdy rebutted one of the president’s main line of attacks, that the Obama administration embedded a spy on his campaign in order to benefit Clinton. In fact, the FBI used a confidential source who met with several Trump associates suspected of having contacts with Russians.

“I don’t know what the FBI could have done or should have done other than run out a lead that someone loosely connected with the campaign was making assertions about Russia,” Gowdy said on CBS.

Trump did not cite those remarks on Twitter.

[The Hill]

The feds lost — yes, lost — 1,475 migrant children

The Trump administration recently announced a new, get-tough policy that will separate parents from their children if the family is caught crossing the border illegally.

It was a big news story. So big it overshadowed the fact that the federal government has lost — yes, lost — 1,475 migrant children in its custody.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told Congress that within 48 hours of being taken into custody the children are transferred to the Department of Health and Human Services, which finds places for them to stay.

“They will be separated from their parent,” said Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif.

“Just like we do in the United States every day,” Nielsen replied.

Except that the states, unlike the federal government, have systems in place to better screen the people who become guardians of the children and much better ways to keep track of those children.

And not lose them.

That is what happened to 1,475 minors swept up at the border and taken into custody by the federal government.

Gone.

The Office of Refugee Resettlement reported at the end of 2017 that of the 7,000-plus children placed with sponsored individuals, the agency did not know where 1,475 of them were.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said, “It’s just a system that has so many gaps, so many opportunities for these children to fall between the cracks, that we just don’t know what’s going on — how much trafficking or abuse or simply immigration law violations are occurring.”

A documentary from the PBS program Frontline said that the federal government has actually released some of the minors to human traffickers.

Imagine that.

And now we want to dramatically ramp up the number of children who are removed from their parents?

When pressed about safety concerns Secretary Nielsen said, “I just want to say, I couldn’t agree with your concerns more, period. We owe more to these children to protect them. So I’m saying I agree, we’ve taken steps and we will continue to strengthen what our partners do to protect these children.”

There are 1,475 reasons not to be reassured by the secretary’s promise.

If anything, it would have been better to have a policy in place, with protections, and safe places to stay, and safe people to stay with, and personnel on the government payroll to check-up on them before the administration’s new policy was implemented.

Secretary Nielsen said, “My decision has been that anyone who breaks the law will be prosecuted. If you are parent, or you’re a single person or if you happen to have a family, if you cross between the ports of entry we will refer you for prosecution. You have broken U.S. law.”

We all get that. And we all want a secure border. But we don’t want to trade in our humanity in the process.

As Sen. Portman told Frontline, “We’ve got these kids. They’re here. They’re living on our soil. And for us to just, you know, assume someone else is going to take care of them and throw them to the wolves, which is what HHS was doing, is flat-out wrong. I don’t care what you think about immigration policy, it’s wrong.”

He’s right.

[USA Today]

The Justice Department Deleted Language About Press Freedom And Racial Gerrymandering From Its Internal Manual

Since the fall, the US Department of Justice has been overhauling its manual for federal prosecutors.

In: Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ tough-on-crime policies. Out: A section titled “Need for Free Press and Public Trial.” References to the department’s work on racial gerrymandering are gone. Language about limits on prosecutorial power has been edited down.

The changes include new sections that underscore Sessions’ focus on religious liberty and the Trump administration’s efforts to crack down on government leaks — there is new language admonishing prosecutors not to share classified information and directing them to report contacts with the media.

Not all changes are substantive: Long paragraphs have been split up, outdated contacts lists have been updated, and citations to repealed laws have been removed.

The “US Attorneys’ Manual” is something of a misnomer. Federal prosecutors in US attorney offices across the country use it, but so do other Justice Department — often referred to as “Main Justice” — lawyers. The manual features high-level statements about department policies and priorities as well as practical guidance on every facet of legal work that comes through the department.

The last major update to the manual was in 1997. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein — the DOJ’s number two official and a veteran federal prosecutor — ordered the top-to-bottom review, according to department spokesperson Ian Prior. In a March speech announcing changes to the department’s policy for enforcing certain anti-corruption laws, Rosenstein lamented the difficulty prosecutors have keeping track of policy and procedure changes when they aren’t reflected in the manual.

Some of the recent changes were publicly announced. In January, for instance, the department said it was adding a section called “Respect for Religious Liberty,” directing prosecutors to alert senior officials about lawsuits filed against the US government “raising any significant question concerning religious liberty” and articulating “Principles of Religious Liberty” that Sessions laid out in an earlier memo.

Most changes haven’t been publicly announced, though, which is common practice, according to former DOJ officials who spoke with BuzzFeed News. US attorney offices have been notified of the significant changes so far, and notice will go out when the review is done, Prior said. The public version of the manual online notes when individual sections were last updated.

The Justice Department declined to comment on specific changes. In a statement to BuzzFeed News, Prior said the manual is meant to be a “quick and ready reference” for lawyers, not “an exhaustive list of constitutional rights, statutory law, regulatory law, or generalized principles of our legal system.”

“While sections of the USAM have changed over time, the last comprehensive review and update of the USAM occurred twenty years ago. During that time, policies have changed or become outdated, and leadership memos were issued without being incorporated into the USAM. As part of the effort to consolidate policies into a useful one-stop-shop of litigation-related documents for the Department, the Deputy Attorney General ordered a thorough, department wide review of the USAM,” Prior said. “The purpose of that review is to identify redundant sections and language, areas that required greater clarity, and any content that needed to be added to help Department attorneys perform core prosecutorial functions.”

The review is taking place while the Justice Department is still missing several Senate-confirmed officials, including heads of the Criminal Division, the Civil Division, the Civil Rights Division, and the Environment and Natural Resources Division. Nominees for those posts are waiting for a final vote in the Senate. Trump has yet to announce a nominee for associate attorney general, the department’s third-ranking official, following the February departure of Rachel Brand. Prior said that the review process has included career attorneys from across the department.

Sections of the manual that dealt with a variety of personnel and administrative issues, many of which are explained in other internal department documents or are included in federal statutes and regulations, were removed. Those sections included language about what happens when a US attorney spot is vacant, policies for securing and paying witnesses, and compliance with the Freedom of Information Act.

BuzzFeed News compared the latest version of the manual with earlier versions saved via the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine.

[Buzzfeed]

Trump Twitter-taunts GOP lawmakers and attacks Jeff Sessions for not going after Comey and Hillary Clinton

President Donald Trump kicked off his Sunday morning Twitter flurry by touting a Fox News report about GOP lawmakers asking the Justice Department to investigate former FBI Director James Comey and Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign rival, Hillary Clinton.

Writing on Twitter, Trump stated, “‘GOP Lawmakers asking Sessions to Investigate Comey and Hillary Clinton.’ @FoxNews Good luck with that request!”

[Raw Story]

Trump pressed Sessions to fire 2 FBI officials who sent anti-Trump text messages

President Donald Trump sharply questioned Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI Director Christopher Wray during a White House meeting on January 22 about why two senior FBI officials — Peter Strzok and Lisa Page — were still in their jobs despite allegations made by allies of the president that they had been disloyal to him and had unfairly targeted him and his administration, according to two people with knowledge of the matter.

The president also pressed his attorney general and FBI director to work more aggressively to uncover derogatory information within the FBI’s files to turn over to congressional Republicans working to discredit the two FBI officials, according to the same sources.

The very next day, Trump met Sessions again, this time without Wray present, and even more aggressively advocated that Strzok and Page be fired, the sources said.

Trump’s efforts to discredit Strzok and Page came after Trump was advised last summer by his then-criminal defense attorney John Dowd that Page was a likely witness against him in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether Trump obstructed justice, according to two senior administration officials. That Trump knew that Page might be a potential witness against him has not been previously reported or publicly known.

The effort to discredit Strzok and Page has been part of a broader effort by Trump and his allies to discredit and even fire FBI officials who they believe will be damaging witnesses against the president in Mueller’s obstruction of justice probe.

Those attacks, in turn, are part of a broader push to denigrate Mueller himself and make it easier for Trump to publicly justify his potential firing. Those efforts have taken on new urgency as Mueller continues to rack up guilty pleas from former senior Trump officials like Michael Flynn and Rick Gates, and after the FBI, in conjunction with other federal prosecutors, raided the office, home, and hotel room of Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime lawyer. Trump’s fury over the raid has made many of his closest advisers worry that he’s inching closer to firing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the Mueller probe, and possibly Mueller as well.

Last May, Trump fired James Comey as FBI director, who today appears to be the special counsel’s most crucial witness against the president. Trump also enlisted his attorney general to pressure current FBI Director Wray earlier this year to fire then-FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. Wraythought the pressure was so improper that he threatened to resign if it did not end.

Trump’s efforts against Page and Strzok demonstrate that the president personally has targeted even midlevel officials and career FBI agents.

[Vox]

Justice Department Will Pause A Legal Advice Program For Detained Immigrants

The Department of Justice will temporarily suspend funding for a legal-advice program for detained immigrants as well as a telephone help line at the end of the month, according to officials.

On Tuesday, the department alerted the Vera Institute of Justice, an immigrants rights organization that runs the Legal Orientation Program and the Immigration Court Helpdesk, that the government needs time to review the effectiveness of the program.

The most recent review occurred in 2012. According to public statements, the annual price tag of the program is about $6 million.

The Justice Department declined to explain why it has chosen to review the program when the contract expires on April 30. Officials also declined to provide a timeline for the review.

According to the Vera Institute of Justice, the program serves more than 50,000 people per year in 38 Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers across the country. The nonprofit works with a network of 18 legal aid organizations to provide information in multiple languages about immigrant rights and how the legal system operates.

“Without this program immigrants are effectively being stripped of access to even the most basic information,” Claudia Cubas, the litigation director for Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, told NPR.

Cubas’ Washington, D.C.-based group provides services for undocumented immigrants in six detention centers in Maryland and Virginia. In addition to an orientation session explaining terminology and the processes of immigration cases, the nonprofit groups also try to pair individuals with pro bono attorneys who can then represent them in immigration court, Cubas said. In instances where staff members take on cases, Cubas said, the lawyers are not paid through the government program.

The program was created in 2003 under President George W. Bush.

“Without this funding, we don’t know if we’ll be able to respond to the growing detention population that we’re seeing at a local level. And given concerns about the immigration court backlog this is an incongruous decision because studies show people who get legal help can more quickly make decisions about their case,” she said.

A 2012 cost analysis by the Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review concluded that 94 percent of detained migrants who were provided services on or before the day of their first immigration court hearing spent 11 fewer days in ICE detention and completed their immigration proceedings 16 days faster than those who did not.

The same study found that the program created a net savings for the government of nearly $18 million.

In recent months, the Justice Department has made several changes to the nation’s immigration courts intended to clear a vast backlog, now estimated to be about 685,000 cases, according to Syracuse University.

The Department of Justice also announced last week that immigration judges’ job performance will be evaluated by how quickly they close cases.

[NPR]

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