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Profile: Jeff Sessions
Jeff Sessions was a participant or observer in the following events:
FBI agent Coleen Rowley, the whistleblower who wrote a stinging memo questioning the bureau’s handling of the Zacarias Moussaoui case (see May 21, 2002), testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Her memo, in which she accused FBI Director Robert Mueller of participating in what she called “a delicate and subtle shading/skewing of facts… at the highest levels of FBI management,” has become a focus of Congressional probes into what many lawmakers perceive as a systemic failure of intelligence gathering preceding the 9/11 attacks. Rowley calls the FBI a bureaucracy rife with “risk aversion,” “roadblocks” to investigations, and “endless, needless paperwork.” Rowley says she is concerned that the FBI has moved towards even more bureaucracy and micromanagement in the months following the attacks. [CNN, 6/6/2002; BBC, 6/6/2002; Senate Judiciary Committee, 6/6/2002] “Seven to nine layers” of management “is really ridiculous,” she says. “We need a way to get around the roadblocks.” But Rowley is more sympathetic to Mueller in her testimony than in her memo, and praises him for appearing willing to consider some of the new ideas and approaches that she says need to be implemented. [New York Times, 6/7/2002; Los Angeles Times, 6/7/2002] In his own testimony before the same committee just hours before Rowley speaks, Mueller promises that Rowley will not be punished for speaking out, and admits that some of Rowley’s assessments are correct (see June 6, 2002). [CNN, 6/6/2002] The questioning and commentary by the committee members varies somewhat by party affiliation, with Democrats such as Charles Schumer (D-NY) repeatedly praising Rowley “for performing a national service in coming forward,” but even committee Republicans such as Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL) engage in criticizing the FBI. [New York Times, 6/7/2002] Charles Grassley (R-IA) calls Rowley “a patriotic American who had the courage to put truth first and raise critical but important questions about how the FBI handled a terrorist case before the attacks, and about the FBI’s cultural problems.” [Los Angeles Times, 6/7/2002]
David Kay tells the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Iraq Survey Group has failed to find any evidence that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. “Let me begin by saying, we were almost all wrong,” he says in his opening remarks, before revealing that the inspection teams found no weapons of mass destruction. “I believe that the effort that has been directed to this point has been sufficiently intense that it is highly unlikely that there were large stockpiles of deployed militarized chemical and biological weapons there,” he says. [CNN, 1/28/2003; Guardian, 1/29/2003; US Congress, 1/28/2004 ]
Hussein Deceived Own Generals - Kay says that apparently even Iraq’s own military commanders believed, falsely, that their military possessed chemical or biological weapons that were ready to be deployed. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) asks Kay: “I believe at one point you noted that even [Saddam Hussein’s] own military officers believed that they had [WMD]. In other words, they would think—” Kay interjects, ”—that someone else had them.” Sessions asks for an explanation, and Kay says: “Well, in interviewing the Republican Guard generals and Special Republican Guard generals and asking about their capabilities and having them, the assurance was they didn’t personally have them and hadn’t seen them, but the units on their right or left had them. And as you worked the way around the circle of those defending Baghdad, which is the immediate area of concern, you have got this very strange phenomena of, ‘No, I didn’t have them, I haven’t seen them, but look to my right and left.’ That was an intentional ambiguity.” [CNN, 1/28/2003; Guardian, 1/29/2003; US Congress, 1/28/2004 ; Wilson, 2007, pp. 154-155]
Trying to Have It Both Ways - In 2007, current CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson (see April 2001 and After) will write, “In retrospect, it appears that Saddam Hussein wanted it both ways: to convince certain audiences that Iraq had WMD, while simultaneously working to convince others that it had abandoned all its illegal programs.” In May 2006, Foreign Affairs magazine will note that Iraq’s former Defense Minister, Ali Hassan Majeed (also known as “Chemical Ali”), knew Iraq possessed no WMDs before the US invasion, but also knew that many of his colleagues “never stopped believing that the weapons still existed. Even at the highest echelon of the regime, when it came to WMD there was always some element of doubt about the truth.” The Foreign Affairs article notes that during a meeting of the Revolutionary Command Council some time before the invasion, Hussein was asked if Iraq indeed possessed such weapons. He said Iraq did not, but refused to countenance any attempt to persuade others outside of the council of the truth. The reason for this deception, Hussein said, was that if Israel believed Iraq had such weapons, it would be less likely to attack Iraq. [Wilson, 2007, pp. 154-155] Kay has just resigned as the head of the Iraq Survey Group (see January 23, 2004).
As part of the conservative backlash against the recently released National Intelligence Estimate on Iran that concluded Iran had halted work on its nuclear weapons program in 2003 (see December 3, 2007 and December 3-6, 2007), some Senate Republicans intend to call for a Congressional commission to investigate the conclusions and the intelligence that went into it, with an eye to discrediting the NIE and its producers. John Ensign (R-NV) says he will propose a “bipartisan” commission to review the NIE, saying, “Iran is one of the greatest threats in the world today. Getting the intelligence right is absolutely critical, not only on Iran’s capability but its intent. So now there is a huge question raised, and instead of politicizing that report, let’s have a fresh set of eyes—objective, yes—look at it.… There are a lot of people out there who do question [the NIE]. There is a huge difference between the 2005 and 2007 estimates.” The 2005 NIE concluded, apparently erroneously, that Iran was an imminent threat for developing a nuclear weapon (see August 2, 2005). Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) adds, “If [the NIE is] inaccurate, it could result in very serious damage to legitimate American policy.” As late as July 2007, Sessions notes, intelligence officials testified before Congress that they believed Iran was hard at work developing a nuclear weapon. “We need to update our conclusions,” Sessions says, “but this is a substantial change.” The proposed commission would take its cue from a commission that examined a 1995 NIE on the ballistic missile threat faced by the US. [Washington Post, 12/7/2007]
Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX) attacks Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009) for what he calls “personal bias based on ethnicity and gender.” Smith says, “Judge Sotomayor will need to reassure the country that she will set aside her biases, uphold the rule of law, and interpret the Constitution as written, not as she believes it should have been written.” Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), who will vote to confirm or deny Sotomayor’s nomination as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says Sotomayor has shown disrespect for the law in her time on the bench. Eleven years ago, Sessions voted against allowing her to become an appeals court judge. Sotomayor was confirmed despite Sessions’s vote. Now, Sessions says she will get a “fair and respectful hearing” before the committee, but says he and other conservatives worry about her “history of activism.” Legal analysts say Sotomayor has a history of complying with the law, and far from being a judicial activist, has usually shown judicial restraint and a deference to existing case law and judicial precedent. [Fox News, 5/26/2009] In a statement, Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) questions “her ability to rule fairly without undue influence from her own personal race, gender, or political preferences.” [Senator James Inhofe, 5/26/2009] Liberal columnist Dana Goldstein retorts that the same question could be asked of the seven white males already on the bench, and asks sardonically, “White men are raceless and genderless, haven’t you heard?” [American Prospect, 5/26/2009]
John Cornyn (R-TX), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says he is “troubled” by Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009) in light of her supposed “judicial activism” (see May 26, 2009) and supposed willingness to put her personal background above her dedication to the rule of law (see October 26, 2001). However, Cornyn repudiates some of the more vicious attacks on Sotomayor from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former House Republican Tom Tancredo, radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh, and others who have termed her “racist” (see May 26, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 27-29, 2009, May 27, 2009, May 28, 2009, May 28, 2009, and May 28, 2009). “I think it’s terrible. This is not the kind of tone that any of us want to set when it comes to performing our constitutional responsibilities of advice and consent,” Cornyn says. Of Gingrich and Limbaugh, Cornyn adds: “Neither one of these men are elected Republican officials. I just don’t think it’s appropriate and I certainly don’t endorse it. I think it’s wrong.” [National Public Radio, 5/28/2009; Politico, 5/28/2009] The next day, Jeff Sessions (R-AL), the ranking Republican on the committee, says the inflammatory rhetoric from right-wingers such as Limbaugh, Tancredo, and Gingrich makes him “uneasy,” and he advises Republicans to limit their criticisms of Sotomayor to her judicial record. “I don’t think that’s good rhetoric,” says Sessions. “The question is, has the judge gone too far or not, given the established law of the land?” The Washington Post notes that in 1986, Sessions was denied a federal judgeship because of his record of racial insensitivity (see June 5, 2009). Neither Sessions nor the Post mentions Sessions’s recent attack on Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009). [Washington Post, 5/29/2009] On May 31, Sessions tells an NBC audience that his Republican colleagues should refrain from calling Sotomayor a racist, and he would prefer that they not continue to attack her over her 2001 remarks. [Associated Press, 5/31/2009]
Jeff Sessions (R-AL), the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, says he intends to be fair to Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009) when she appears before the committee for confirmation to the bench. Sessions says he knows how it feels to be accused of racism (see May 26, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 27-29, 2009, May 27, 2009, May 28, 2009, May 28, 2009, May 28, 2009, May 29, 2009, June 2, 2009, June 3, 2009, and June 5, 2009) because he weathered such accusations when he was turned down for a federal judgeship in 1986. As a US attorney in Alabama, Sessions had demonstrably shown bias during his prosecution of civil rights activists for voting fraud, called the NAACP an “un-American” and “Communist” organization, called a black attorney “boy” and warned him to “be careful what you say to white folks,” and expressed his admiration for the Ku Klux Klan. None of those assertions were true, Sessions now says, claiming he was “caricatured,” even though at the time, multiple witnesses made the claims. Then, Sessions says, he couldn’t counter “the message” that he was a racist. While he does not directly repudiate the accusations of racism leveled against Sotomayor, he recently told her, “You will get a fair hearing before this committee.” [New Republic, 12/30/2002; CNN, 6/5/2009]
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