In a crowded hotel ballroom in Hoover, Jeff Sessions got something he rarely gets in Washington, D.C., these days — approval and adulation.
Hundreds of law enforcement professionals gave the embattled attorney general a standing ovation during his introduction to a symposium, and the Alabama native took note.
“That is a warm welcome. I appreciate it, and it’ll make my day. Who knows? I may need this, going back to Washington. You never know in the Capital City, that’s for sure,” Sessions joked.
The crowd chuckled nervously, as if they understood precisely why Sessions said that. He’s been the target of plenty of criticism and outright derision from President Trump, who picked him to head the U.S. Department of Justice partly as thanks for early support of his campaign — and who has since repeatedly castigated Sessions for recusing himself from the federal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections.
While Sessions was addressing attendees of the National Public Safety Partnership’s symposium at the Hyatt Regency Birmingham-The Wynfrey Hotel on Monday, the Washington whirlwind was spinning at full force.
Depending on one’s selection of a news source, either Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was on his way to the White House to hand in his resignation because of reports he had asked other top staffers whether he should “wear a wire” to record Trump and see whether he is fit to hold office — or he was headed toward a previously scheduled meeting with Chief of Staff Michael Kelley. Rosenstein has overseen special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation since Sessions’ recusal and is a regular target of Trump’s fury online.
Even six hours after Sessions took to the stage in Hoover, the national press corps still was trying to figure out whether he was out of a job, still working or in some sort of limbo. Reports Monday evening had Trump meeting with Rosenstein on Thursday.
All the while, Sessions was doing pretty much what he has done ever since his appointment, even in the face of withering tweet-storms from Trump and howling criticism from the political left and the cable-news pundit class.
He’s kept on running the Justice Department, rarely even acknowledging attacks by Trump or the critics; he has avoided publicly defending himself and, for that matter, has avoided talking with the media almost entirely.
That pattern continued Monday, as he came into the conference room through a back door just in time for his speech and was hustled out that same door at the end without taking any questions. His opening remarks were as close as Sessions has come to addressing his troubles inside the Beltway, but in his speech, he concentrated far more on what the partnership was intended to do, liberally sprinkling references to Auburn and Alabama football throughout.
Focused on Crime Reduction
Monday’s symposium was the result of an initiative established under an executive order by Trump, as Sessions noted more than once. The partnership was established last year to foster greater cooperation among federal, state and local law enforcement and prosecutors to reduce crime in several cities that have violent crime rates far exceeding national averages. Four cities were selected in 2017 for full three-year operations teams, including Birmingham. The NPSP said in a media statement that Birmingham’s violent crime rate was more than triple the national average for 2010 through 2014. Birmingham was second-highest of the four selected cities, which include Memphis, Indianapolis and Toledo, Ohio. The numbers were far worse for the year 2015, during which Birmingham’s violent crime rate was more than 17 times that of the national numbers.
Federal programs have a long history of good intentions that sometimes become enmeshed in bureaucracy, making it hard for the average citizen to see any benefits. So what does this partnership do to create a safer and better life for a single mom and her children in a high-crime area?
“I would look her in they eye and try to reassure her that all of the law enforcement leaders — all of those leaders who are responsible for bringing about neighborhood safety — are protecting her and protecting her family, making it safer for her children to go to school,” said Jon Adler, director of the federal Bureau of Justice Assistance.
“We’re working to drive down the crime and make it better for her quality of life,” Adler said. “It doesn’t happen by simply contemplating. It happens by action … . We’re here for the long haul. This is not a one-shot offense.”
At its heart, the NPSP symposium is a meeting of the minds, where different agencies share what’s working in their jurisdictions to reduce violent crimes. The program is still in its early stages, so measuring the effect on crime rates is tough. But U.S. Attorney Jay Town is optimistic.
“Come back again in a year. I guarantee you that we will have successes to talk about,” Town said. “It’s my belief and my judgment that what we have convened here is going to make a great difference when we have this same discussion in a year.”