Justice News

Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein Delivers Remarks at Cabinet Chair Presentation Ceremony for Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions
Washington, DC
United States
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Thursday, March 21, 2019

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Jeff Sessions was raised in the small town of Hybart, Alabama, where his father owned a country store. He became an Eagle Scout at age 17, and to this day, he lives by Scout principles: help other people at all times; remain physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight; be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.

Consistent with those values, General Sessions devoted most of his career to public service. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Huntingdon College in 1969 and a law degree from the University of Alabama in 1973. Then he joined the United States Army Reserve and served for thirteen years. He first served as a federal prosecutor in 1975. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan appointed him as United States Attorney for Southern Alabama, where he served for twelve years.

General Sessions left government service in 1993, along with Attorney General Bill Barr, but he did not stay gone for long. In 1994, he won election as Alabama’s Attorney General. And in 1996, he was elected to the United States Senate, where he served with great distinction for two decades.

Attorney General Sessions arrived at the Department of Justice in 2017 with a mandate from President Trump to implement a law-and-order agenda and promote the rule of law.

The Attorney General brought clear plans about what he wanted to accomplish.

First, hire men and women of character and integrity, who will diligently implement the Administration’s law-and-order mandate while advancing all of the Justice Department’s important work.

Second, support local, state, and federal law enforcement officers.

Third, reduce violent crime.

Fourth, reverse the upward trend in drug overdose deaths.

Fifth, dismantle transnational criminal organizations.

Sixth, restore immigration enforcement.

And above all, maintain high professional standards.

Whenever challenges arose, Attorney General Sessions exhorted us to restore “regular order” – the neutral principles and unbiased procedures that promote public confidence in government.

As President Trump explained, “we govern ourselves in accordance with the rule of law rather [than] … the whims of an elite few or the dictates of collective will. Through law, we … ensure[] liberty.” The point is that we achieve justice through a legal process that seeks objective truth based upon credible evidence.

Attorney General Sessions emphasized that we do “not represent any narrow interest or any subset of the American people. We represent all of the American people and protect the integrity of our Constitution.”

No Attorney General’s tenure goes exactly as planned. Unexpected developments always arise. But Jeff Sessions stayed true to his values. He remained faithful to his goals. And he made America safer during his 21 months running this great Department.

Some of our most respected Attorneys General served shorter terms. Harlan Fiske Stone held the office for just 11 months. Michael Mukasey was Attorney General for 14 months. So was Bill Barr, the first time around. If you add his 100 days as acting Attorney General, it totals 17 months. Ben Civiletti also served for 17 months. Even the esteemed Robert Jackson held the office for only 19 months.

Yet the portraits of Barr, Jackson, and Civiletti hang today in my office, because an Attorney General’s success is measured by accomplishments, not by length of service.

On Jeff Sessions’ watch, we reduced crime by reviving the Project Safe Neighborhoods program, launching the National Public Safety Partnership, and filing the greatest number of violent crime and firearms cases in history. We restored the Department’s traditional charging policy, returning discretion to our federal prosecutors to pursue mandatory penalties. We enhanced firearms background checks, and we targeted transnational criminal organizations.

We attacked the drug overdose epidemic head-on by creating an Opioid Fraud and Detection Unit, forming Prescription Interdiction and Litigation task forces, initiating Operation Synthetic Opioid Surge, and forming the Joint Criminal Opioid Darknet Enforcement program to target internet drug dealers.

Our Department supported law enforcement by leading the “Back the Blue” initiative, improving the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Program, and preserving civil asset forfeiture.

We restored the rule of law to the immigration system, by adding prosecutors and judges to the southwestern border, hiring scores of new immigration judges, and expediting the immigration adjudication process.

The Department protected national security by defending elections from foreign interference, created a cyber-digital task force, launched an initiative to combat Chinese economic espionage, pursued terrorist financing schemes, devoted additional resources to investigate leaks of classified information, and supported FISA reauthorization.

Under Jeff Sessions’ leadership, the Department of Justice launched a hate crimes prevention initiative, protected places of worship, prosecuted human trafficking and fought sexual harassment in housing.

We protected the rule of law by restricting third-party settlement payments, requiring that binding guidance be promulgated in accordance with the rules, promoting regulatory reform, and opposing nationwide injunctions. And we advocated religious liberty and protected free speech on college campuses.

Throughout, Attorney General Sessions supported active management of our Department components, to deliver the maximum benefit in return for the $28 billion that taxpayers spend on our operations each year.

The people, programs, and policies that Jeff Sessions put in place will continue to benefit our nation for many years to come.

Attorney General Sessions respected the finest traditions of this Department. Robert Jackson remarked that “most … mistakes [made by government lawyers]… [result from] fail[ing] to observe the fiduciary principle … the principle of trusteeship ….” Jeff Sessions never made that mistake. He viewed himself as a trustee of Justice, and he called on all of us to do the same.

When another renowned leader of this Department, Edward Levi, delivered his farewell remarks from this very stage in 1977, he emphasized the Attorney General’s duty “to make clear by words and deed[s] that our law is not an instrument of partisan purpose, and it is not to be used in ways which are careless of the higher values … within all of us.” Jeff Sessions always aspired to the higher values, and he expected nothing less of us.

Finally, I want to read to you something that Ruth said about her dad during his confirmation process. She wrote:

"I am so honored to be [Jeff Sessions’] daughter. His accomplishments and job titles aside, I am just so proud of his extreme graciousness towards those [who] intended him harm. They were relentless and ruthless, [but] Dad [did not] complain[]…. They spewed lies and hate, and Dad simply shrugged it off. They chose to attack him when he was not there to set the record straight. Yet, still, in his last chance to dish it right back at them, my Daddy simply wished his colleagues well and asked them to find hope (and progress) through reconciliation with those of the opposite view point.”

That sums up Jeff Sessions’ character. At 72 years old, despite decades of remarkable accomplishments, he remains a humble Eagle Scout from a small town. A patriot who lives by the biblical injunction that “you will know them by their fruit.” A man who – in the spirit of Abraham Lincoln – maintains “malice toward none” and advocates “charity for all.” A mentor, a friend, and a role model.

In closing, I want to speak to the children who are in the room, and to the others who may someday watch this ceremony: Your grandfather served in some of the most powerful positions in the United States Government, but he never forgot who he was and where he came from. He spent most of his life working hard to make the world a better place for you. We were privileged to work for him, and we thank you for sharing him with us.

Updated March 21, 2019