By Glynn Wilson –
MOBILE, Ala. — Actions over the past few days by Trump’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions of Mobile, Alabama, demonstrate that rather than keeping his head down and considering resigning for lying to Congress about communicating with the Russians during the campaign before the election, he is moving with all deliberate speed to reverse course and turn the American ship of state around and go backwards.
Last Tuesday, speaking at the National Association of Attorneys General’s annual winter meeting in Washington, Sessions hinted that the Department of Justice might begin more aggressive enforcement of federal laws against recreational marijuana, even in states that have legalized it, a repudiation of the principle of “states rights” he and his fellow Republicans often embrace — when it suits them.
Sessions said that he is looking at getting the federal Justice Department to investigate medical and recreational marijuana users in eight states and the District of Columbia where lawmakers legalized its use.
“States, they can pass the laws they choose,” he said. “I would just say, it does remain a violation of federal law to distribute marijuana throughout any place in the United States, whether a state legalizes it or not.”
Sessions, who has long opposed marijuana legalization, reiterated that view in response to a question on drug policy.
“I’m not sure we’re going to be a better, healthier nation if we’re going to have marijuana being sold at every corner grocery store,” he said.
Sessions’ comments echoed White House spokesman Sean Spicer, who predicted harsher prosecution of marijuana under the Trump administration at a press briefing last Thursday.
“I do believe you’ll see greater enforcement of it,” he said.
Spicer clarified that Trump supports medical marijuana but “that’s very different than recreational use, which is something the Department of Justice will be further looking into.”
This would all mark a significant priority shift from the Obama administration, which said in a 2013 memo that the federal government would generally not intervene in states that had legalized marijuana except in cases where the drug was being sold to minors, being sent across state lines or other specific infractions.
It’s also a break from Trump’s own remarks on the campaign trail.
In a TV interview in Colorado in July of 2016, Trump said that he would not use federal law enforcement to go after recreational marijuana in states where it is legal, saying that legalization is an issue for states to decide.
“I think it’s up to the states,” he said.
Such enforcement could prove unpopular. In a Quinnipiac poll of 1,323 voters nationwide conducted earlier this month, 71 percent of respondents said the federal government should not enforce federal laws against marijuana in states that have legalized it.
Sessions also indicated he wanted the state of California to turn over its list of medical marijuana users, a move that is so far being resisted by the state.
Law and Order
Then on Monday, the news broke that Sessions ordered a sweeping review of federal agreements with dozens of law enforcement agencies around the country, a move that reflects President Trump’s emphasis on “law and order” that would lead to a retreat on consent decrees with police departments across the country where race has flared up as a problem.
The memo ordered Department of Justice staff to look at whether law enforcement programs developed under those consent decrees adhere to principles put forth by the Trump administration, including one declaring that “the individual misdeeds of bad actors should not impugn” the work police officers perform “in keeping American communities safe.”
As part of its shift in emphasis, the Justice Department went to court on Monday to seek a 90-day delay in a consent decree to overhaul the embattled Police Department in Baltimore, Maryland.
That request came just days before a hearing, scheduled for Thursday in the United States District Court in Baltimore, to solicit public comment on the agreement, which was reached in principle by the city and the Justice Department in the final days of the Obama administration.
Mayor Catherine E. Pugh said late Monday that the city would “strongly oppose any delay in moving forward.”
Supporters of police reform called on Judge James K. Bredar, who is overseeing the negotiations between Baltimore and the Justice Department, to deny the request, arguing that Mr. Sessions was interfering with the will of the city.
The city and justice department had reached the agreement, known as a consent decree, in January, almost two years after the death of a black man, Freddie Gray, of injuries sustained while in police custody sparked a day of rioting and arson in the majority-black city. It also led to an investigation that found the city’s police routinely violated residents’ civil rights.
Gray, 25, died of injuries sustained in the back of a police van in April 2015. His was one of a series of high-profile deaths in U.S. cities from Ferguson, Missouri, to North Charleston, South Carolina, that sparked an intense debate about race and justice and fueled the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh opposes the request for an extension, she said in a statement.
“Much has been done to begin the process of building faith between the police department and the community it seeks to serve. Any interruption in moving forward may have the effect of eroding the trust that we are working hard to establish,” she said.
Sessions Faces New Ethics Complaint
This news comes out just as Sessions faces charges in another ethics complaint filed with the Alabama Bar Association.
It has come to light that 2,000 attorneys from across the U.S. have signed on to a complaint addressed to the state bar Disciplinary Committee asking that Session be investigated and disbarred for lying to Congress and covering it up.
Filed by an organization called Lawyers for Good Government, the complaint claims Sessions should be investigated and disbarred for violating professional conduct standards in the Alabama Rules of Professional Conduct due to his false testimony during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Sessions behaved dishonestly and deceitfully when he testified that he “did not have communications with the Russians,” according to the complaint (see link below), which would be a violation of the rules, including a provision that discourages “conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.”
Sessions has so far refused to comment on all the investigations and complaints against him.
See the full ethics complaint here (PDF).
Get more details on these stories by checking out our previous coverage.
© 2017, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.