After he gave a major immigration address in Norfolk, Virginia Friday, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions appeared to turn the tables and address the criticism directed at him over his handling of allegations of bias among his department’s members.
Some Congressional Republicans have repeatedly attacked Sessions over revelations of possible bias among Department of Justice (DOJ) investigators, especially those related to hundreds of increasingly damning text messages between FBI agent and one-time “Russia” investigator Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page. Some have even called for Sessions’s resignation over his handling of the matter, although most of the alleged wrongdoing took place before Sessions began his tenure at DOJ.
Sessions made no direct reference to Strzok, the Russia investigation, or any other specific matter, but hit back generally, urging adherence to the law and procedure. “We need to do our duty and follow the law. Some people like that concept, some don’t,” he said, going off script from his prepared remarks after he finished his comments on immigration.
The attorney general then took a firm stance against bias, saying:
It means absolutely eliminating political bias or favoritism in either direction from our investigations and our prosecutions. That sort of thinking is the antithesis of what our department stands for. We will not tolerate it. It means identifying the mistakes of the past, correcting them, and, when we find problems we are addressing them head on, not sweeping them under the rug.
“Much of what we are doing is behind the scenes. It’s not public,” Sessions added, apparently reassuring his critics that more efforts may be underway than are clear to them.
Sessions repeatedly appealed to procedure, explaining:
This is the system. It’s part of the process. We’re going to work our way through. We don’t see criticism from Congress as necessarily a bad thing. We welcome Congress as a partner in our effort get better. When they learn of a problem and start asking questions – well that’s just a good thing. Sunlight is the best disinfectant.
“A culture of defensiveness is not acceptable. The Department of Justice does not always know what’s best. We’re not always perfect. No one is,” Sessions admitted, adding:
And it can never be that our department would conceal errors is they are to occur. We expect – no, we demand – the highest level of ethics and professionalism from every person in the Department of Justice.
If anyone falls short of these standards, we will not hesitate to take appropriate action and we will do so in accordance with the rules and procedures of the Department of Justice. And we will of course defend investigators and prosecutors from unfair criticism.
“Our goal is justice. All our work is subject to review with certain constraints,” the Attorney General emphasized.