Jefferson Beauregard Sessions came to Baltimore on the day that Democrat Doug Jones took the attorney general’s former Senate seat in a special-election victory over accused pedophile and hardcore theocrat Roy Moore. Much of the country felt relief that Alabama did not elect a man who had been banned from an Alabama shopping mall back in the ’80s to the U.S. Senate.
Still, more than 60 percent of white people in Alabama did vote for Moore, again proving that if you are racist enough, in some parts of America almost nothing else matters.
Trump tried to cast Moore’s defeat as a personal vindication; he had endorsed Luther Strange during the primary. But Sessions must have been more uncomfortable than normal—and not only because he was in a majority-black city.
When asked if he had voted, Sessions flashed his elfin grin and said he had, but he would respect the “sanctity” of the secret ballot. Steve Bannon, who brought Sessions into the Trump orbit, had used all his Breitbart-ian propaganda for Moore and gotten stomped. So now he was recalibrating.
“Judge Moore has never been, really, an economics guy,” Bannon told Newsweek following Moore’s defeat, and wished for a candidate like Sessions, where “immigration and trade would've been at the top of the agenda.”
In Baltimore, Sessions followed the Bannon script and stirred up fear of immigrants and minorities. He was talking about the Salvadoran gang MS-13 and immigration, going back to his own most deeply-held convictions of the danger of immigration.
“Over the last two years, this city in particular has experienced violence like we haven’t seen in nearly a quarter of a century,” the attorney general said. “Baltimore has a higher murder rate and a higher violent crime rate than Chicago with less than a quarter of the population, if you can believe it.”
Someone in the Department of Justice must have thought Baltimore would be the perfect venue for this message, but there is virtually no MS-13 presence. And Sessions did not mention that eight members of an elite police task force here have been indicted by the feds for racketeering and a series of other crimes—robbing civilians, planting drugs, stealing drugs and having them sold in Philadelphia by a local cop. A detective, Sean Suiter, was murdered on Nov. 15, and it later came out that he was scheduled to testify against those officers the very next day.
Not exactly a good place for your law-and-order speech. The “strong and motivated policing” he called for was what allowed the Gun Trace Task Force to be out of control in the first place. To make it worse, Baltimore’s police commissioner asked the FBI to take over the case more than a week earlier and never got an answer. But when Sessions was asked about the FBI taking over the case by a local reporter, Sessions seemed largely unaware of the case and spoke in platitudes about cooperation.
Sessions partially blamed immigrants for Baltimore’s crime, but he also wanted to blame those who protested the death of Freddie Gray in 2015. “Bad things start happening and you can trace the surge in violence in this city to the riots and some of the reactions that occurred afterwards," he said.
Baltimore was a bad spot for Sessions because it also reminds people that he had to recuse himself from the Russia investigation for lying under oath. That investigation is now handled by Rod Rosenstein, who used to be the U.S. attorney in Baltimore and is now Sessions’ No. 2 at the DOJ. Rosenstein was to testify about the investigation before the House the next day.
“I'm appropriately exercising my oversight responsibilities. So I can assure you that the special counsel is conducting himself consistently with our understanding about the scope of his investigation," Rosenstein said.
The far right is enraged because it thinks Mueller and his team are politically biased, and is demanding that Rosenstein fire Mueller. Last month, Republicans said firing Mueller was the only way to prevent a coup. Text messages between two FBI agents, one of whom was on Mueller’s team, have given fuel to that fire. The texts between Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, it turns out, were released to a “select group” of reporters, who came to the DOJ offices to see them on Dec. 12—before members of Congress got them. Strzok said the Republican Party ought to “pull their head out of their ass," and called Trump an idiot. Strzok was fired for this. But the far right is capitalizing on it. A Bannon-affiliated Super PAC is buying ads in local cable markets calling on Mueller to be fired. Right-wing pundits are calling for a purge in the FBI.
This is dangerous, for sure. But it’s crazy to act like our law enforcement offices all around this country aren’t politicized. It’s just that they’re usually right-leaning. At the same moment Sessions was speaking, the first six of 193 people who will ultimately face trial as a result of four broken windows on Inauguration Day were sitting in a courtroom being prosecuted by his DOJ. Testimony showed they had a clear political bias against anarchists and for Trump. But the same armchair #Resistance that has ignored the trampling of the rights of citizens and journalists in this case is getting ready for a mobilization if Mueller is fired. The danger is that it will be willing to embrace the kind of tough-on-crime mass incarceration policies of a Sessions DOJ if it helps save Mueller, whom it sees as the last hope.
As Sessions slithered away, looking simultaneously delighted and nervous, like a school boy at a strip club, his red cheeks glowing beneath his white hair, it was clear, once again, that we are in hell.
Baynard Woods is a reporter for the Real News Network. Email firstname.lastname@example.org; @baynardwoods on Twitter. Check out the Democracy in Crisis podcast at flagpole.com.