Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday gave a vote of confidence to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who is engulfed in the Russia controversy hovering over the Trump presidency.
The VP hailed Sessions as a “law and order attorney general,” and said he and Trump are “proud to have him on our side.”
Pence told the audience that Trump “promised” to law enforcement officers, and added Sessions is “taking every step” to “strongly” do just that.
And while he did not credit Sessions directly, Pence lauded the Justice Department policy shift toward seeking “the most stringent” sentences for those convicted of drug-related charges; the AG led that charge.
Sessions last Tuesday clashed with Democratic senators during a dramatic Intelligence Committee hearing to explore his alleged contacts with Russian officials during the 2016 presidential campaign and other matters related to the panel’s investigation of Moscow’s meddling.
And even before that, several senior Democratic members, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, have called for him to resign. Sessions also was forced to recuse himself from DOJ’s Russia probe.
During last week’s hearing, Sessions was forced to deliver a passionate and aggressive defense of his actions. He was visibly emotional while telling the committee that he had done nothing wrong – while also claiming to not recall some reports of contact he had with senior Russian diplomats.
“The suggestion that I participated in any collusion” that would hurt the United States, which “I have served for 35 years … is an appalling and detestable lie,” the AG said.
Sessions did not hide his annoyance with some Democrats’ lines of questions, including that from Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden. He accused Sessions of “stonewalling” the panel and its Russia probe. And when he brought up comments former FBI Director James B. Comey had made about Sessions “problematic” Russia ties the previous week, Sessions nearly exploded: “This is secret innuendo being leaked out there about me — and I don’t appreciate it.”
If Sessions left the hearing room a damaged attorney general, Pence tried to repair some of it on Wednesday during a Justice Department conference in Washington.
The vice president also trumpeted what he cast as the administration’s top law enforcement feats:
- He said the MS-13 gang is being “decimated.”
- Pence declared “America’s borders are now closed.” He pointed to the southwest portion of Texas, saying federal agents there have seized “three times” the amount of drugs, including heroin, as they had at this time a year ago.
- Illegal crossings at the U.S.-Mexico border are down “70 percent since Jan. 1 of this year,” Pence said. (He and Trump took office on Jan. 20.)
The VP also use some of the same rhetoric he and Trump used on the campaign trail, including their shared description of America as an unsafe country. Trump “knows we can make this country safe again,” Pence said, citing violent crime statistics in several cities but without providing data on most of the United States.
The Trump administration is “kicking gang members out of parks and alleyways,” the former Indiana congressman and governor said, so American families “can walk the streets in peace.”