The Department of Justice has faced high profile criticism a year in Trump administration
ABC News(WASHINGTON) — The Justice Department has long been a lightning rod for political criticism, but this past year brought it to a new level — with a Republican president taking sharp aim at the Republican attorney general he nominated.
Even as Attorney General Jeff Sessions pressed forward on some of President Donald Trump’s top priorities — such as immigration enforcement — Sessions was sharp criticism from Trump, who was reportedly angered by Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the Justice Department probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and alleged collusion between Trump associates and Russian operatives.
For much of the summer of 2017, it was unclear if Sessions would last until fall.
But Sessions held on, and in doing so he was able to continue addressing issues he has championed such as going after so-called “sanctuary cities,” promoting marijuana enforcement, fighting the growing opioid epidemic and gang-related violence, and changing civil rights enforcement policies.
Early in his tenure as attorney general, Sessions backed a Trump administration decision to overturn Obama-era policies that said federal anti-discrimination laws meant students at schools across the country must be allowed to use the bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity. He has also made other moves that have angered the LGBTQ community.
At the same time, he has committed federal resources to investigate murders of transgender individuals around the country.
Sessions has gone further than any recent attorney general to target “sanctuary cities,” threatening to pull federal grants from any jurisdiction that doesn’t cooperate with federal authorities to detain and turn over undocumented immigrants.
Meanwhile, the Justice Department under Sessions is sending millions of federal dollars toward initiatives to help state and local police battle the opioid epidemic, which Sessions repeatedly notes is killing Americans at record levels. Sessions has also pushed U.S. attorneys’ offices around the country to refocus on prosecuting drug-related crimes.
Similarly, in early January, Sessions announced that the Justice Department was “rescinding” Obama-era guidance over how federal authorities should go after marijuana-related crimes, touting the move as “a return to the rule of law.” However, senior Justice Department officials struggled to explain how the new policy would actually differ from that of their predecessors.
Over the past year, while Sessions has promised to go after gangs like MS-13, he has also faced tough questions over whether the federal government is doing enough to prevent gun violence like the deadly assault launched in Las Vegas last year. 58 people were killed and hundreds of others injured.
Many lawmakers and others have called for stricter regulation of “bump stocks,” which were used in the deadly Las Vegas attack and allow gunmen to turn semiautomatic rifles into near-automatic weapons.
During an event with Justice Department interns last summer, one intern asked Sessions why he supports “pretty harsh policies for marijuana and pretty lax gun control laws” when “statistically guns kill significantly more people than marijuana does.”
In response, Sessions noted that more fatal accidents are now caused by drugs than by alcohol, and he said the American Medical Association “is crystal clear” that “marijuana is not a healthy substance.” “I don’t think America’s going to be a better place if marijuana’s sold in every corner grocery store,” Sessions said.
This story is part of a weeklong series examining the first year of the Trump administration.
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