Ethics Scout Fred points me to a little noted episode in the increasingly fraught existence of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and asks whether the AG’s comments crossed ethical lines.
During a speech about two weeks ago in Las Vegas in which he called for harsher prosecution of criminals and cooperation from local authorities as the federal government cracks down on illegal immigration, Sessions segued to the Cliven Bundy prosecution, and said, cryptically, of Nevada Acting U.S. Attorney Steven Myhre,
“I’ve got to tell you, it’s impressive when you have a tough case, a controversial case, and you’ve got the top guy leading the battle, going to court, standing up and defending the office and the principles of the law. I’m not taking sides or commenting on the case. Just want to say that leadership requires, a lot of times, our people to step up and be accountable.”
Supporters of the Bundy-led armed stand-off with federal authorities think that the Trump administration may sympathize with their anti-government stance, but Trump administration prosecutors are still seeking penalties for Bundy and his group.
Fred notes that “while Sessions is not responsible for how others take what he says, at least no more than any public speaker, the effect of his remarks was to encourage lawbreakers,” based on the statement by Ashley Jones, a producer for radio show host Pete Santilli. Santili, a Bundy ally, is incarcerated pending trial in the case. Jones pronounced Sessions’ comments “a victory for us.”
1. Sessions is almost as inarticulate as his boss. Of course he’s “taking sides,” his prosecutor are taking the side of the government against Bundy and Friends.
2. I read the statement to simply say, ‘It’s good to see a top prosecutor standing up for the Rule of law even when it’s unpopular.’ Sure it is. How could that possibly be seen as a pro-Bundy statement?
3. The despicable tactic of framing a statement by an official to mean something it doesn’t to sway public opinion is old, transparent, dishonest, and only works on the language challenged, the dumb, or the hopelessly biased. By saying Sessions’ comments constituted support when they didn’t and couldn’t, Jones is launching a Big Lie. Remember when Hillary Clinton, after James Comey announced that she had barely escaped prosecution despite her negligently <cough!> handling her e-mail, stated in an interview that Comey had confirmed what she had been saying all along? Same thing. Don’t vote for Ashley Jones, either.
4. Fred is right that a speaker isn’t responsible when someone falsely represents what he says, but speakers are responsible for being sufficiently clear that their words can’t be used to support unethical ends. Sessions shouldn’t have commented on the case at all unless he was able to be less abstruse. If working in the Trump administration is making him talk as imprecisely as his boss, Sessions should resign before he’s fired.
5. Sadly, I think the problem is that Jeff Sessions just isn’t very smart. His support for civil asset forfeiture points to this conclusion (see an excellent Reason post here); so do his jokes and other comments that got him tarred as a racist decades ago; so did his handling of the matter of his contact with the Russian ambassador, and his eagerness to support Donald Trump’s candidacy for President despite Trump’s obvious deficits.
In a non-politics interview with Meredith Vieira, Trump once said, “You have to be very smart…. You can never have somebody so smart that he’s smarter than you. You have to be the smart one.”
She replied, “But that sounds like you surround yourself with stupid people?”
I would have said, “That’s one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard in my life, and a terrible approach to leadership.”
It does explain Jeff Sessions, though.