Attorney General Jeff Sessions came to the defense of his boss, President Donald Trump, in a question and answer session with Georgetown Law professor Randy Barnett Tuesday, after the Wall Street Journal reported Trump is again attacking the head of his DOJ and one of his earliest backers behind closed doors.
Barnett, a noted constitutional law scholar known for his libertarian philosophy, asked Sessions about the controversy raging since President Trump publicly shamed NFL players who refused to stand for the Star Spangled Banner at games. Dozens of players choose to join in such previously scattered protests in defiance of Trump, sparking widespread public disapproval and plummeting TV ratings.
“As Attorney General, does it concern you that these players are being condemned by many including the president?” Barnett posed to Sessions.
“The president has free speech rights, too,” Sessions responded. “He sends soldiers out every day to defend this country under the flag of the United States, under the national anthem, and the unity that those symbols call on us to adhere to.”
The Q and A, hosted by Barnett, followed an address Sessions gave to the future lawyers studying at Georgetown Law on the threats to free speech on the nation’s college campuses.
Sessions went on to explain, in response to Barnett’s question about the NFL players, that, though he believes in freedom of speech, he agreed with the president’s assessment of the professional football players’ antics. “It is a big mistake to protest in that fashion because it weakens the commitment we have to this nation that has provided us this freedom,” he said, adding:
I would note that the players aren’t subject to prosecution, but if they take a provocative act, they can expect to be condemned and the president has the right to condemn them. And I would condemn their actions, not them as a human being … there are many ways that these players, with all the assets they have, can express their political views other than, in effect, denigrating the symbols of our nation.
The attorney general’s forthright support for the president came even as reports indicated Trump is hardly reciprocating that courtesy, at least not in public. The Wall Street Journal’s Rebecca Ballhaus tweeted Tuesday that, at Monday evening’s White House dinner, President Trump again returned to this long-running and often very public blaming of Sesssions, one of his earliest supporters and a forerunner of the Trump populist-nationalist agenda.
“You could feel it dripping with venom,” source said. Trump also suggested Sessions was ineffective, told room to tell him to “get moving" https://t.co/cYe696jl6b
— Rebecca Ballhaus (@rebeccaballhaus) September 26, 2017
Later, Ballhaus wrote that American Conservative Union Chairman Matt Schlapp, the only attendee at the dinner who went on the record with the Journal, insisted the exchange was less intense than the tweeted source suggested. “It was friends getting together and dishing on politics and the state of the country,” Schlapp told Ballhaus, calling the dinner “cordial.”