- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 9, 2017

After Jeff Sessions was sworn in as U.S. attorney general Thursday, he gave brief remarks promising to combat crime and crack down on the “lawlessness” of illegal immigration.

But foremost on his growing list of responsibilities appears to be defending President Trump’s executive orders — not least of which includes a ruling by a federal appeals court upholding an order that bars enforcement of the president’s executive order on travel and refugees. Just three weeks into the presidency, dozens of lawsuits have been lodged over numerous orders.

“He is going to be swamped his first month and a lot of it is going to be the litigation over these executive orders,” said Tim Lynch, director of the Cato Institute’s project on criminal justice. “That’s the priority for the administration right now.”

As both an early backer of Mr. Trump and a trusted confidant, Mr. Sessions may be called upon by the president to weigh in on legal matters far beyond the scope of his predecessors.

Multiple executive orders already signed by Mr. Trump have included specific oversight roles for the attorney general.

The “Preventing Violence Against Federal, State, Tribal, and Local Law Enforcement Officers” order signed just after Mr. Sessions was sworn in at an Oval Office ceremony directs the new attorney general to review federal laws regarding the prosecution of people who harm law enforcement and to come up with legislative recommendations — including definition of new crimes or establishment of new mandatory minimum sentences — that would further protect officers.

Meanwhile, Mr. Trump’s order threatening to cut federal funding for so-called “sanctuary cities” gives the attorney general a role in taking enforcement action against the jurisdictions found to be violating federal immigration law.

“I think the indication is that he is going to have an even more wide-ranging role than Loretta E. Lynch or Eric Holder,” Mr. Lynch said. “Trump is looking for him for guidance and advice on other legal matters that will be coming up outside of the Department of Justice.”

Mr. Sessions’ swearing-in capped a brutal confirmation process during which Senate Democrats and liberal activists criticized his record on civil rights as a senator and former prosecutor, and accused him of being racist, sexist and homophobic.

Afterward, Mr. Sessions sought to draw attention to some of his chief concerns as the nation’s top law enforcer.

“I wish the rise we’re seeing in crime in America today were some kind of aberration or blip,” he said. “This is a dangerous permanent trend that places the health and safety of the American people at risk We will deploy the talents and ability of the Department of Justice in the most effective way possible to confront this rise in crime and to protect the people of our country.”

According to the latest data available from the FBI, the number of violent crimes and homicides increased in the U.S. in 2015, by 4 percent and 11 percent respectively. Despite the recent upticks in homicides, which were largely attributed to spikes in a handful of cities, the FBI data shows the national crime rate at a near-record low, with violent crime down 16.5 percent compared with a decade ago.

Citing the need to “restore safety in America,” Mr. Trump on Thursday signed three executive orders dealing with law enforcement. The orders granted new power to target criminal cartels, created a task force on violent crime and instructed the Justice Department to implement a plan to prevent crime against law enforcement officers, said the president.

The assertions made by Mr. Sessions and Mr. Trump about a rising crime rate worried criminal justice reform advocates, who pointed to long-term crime data to show that over the last two decades crime has been on a rapid decline.

“President Trump intends to build task forces to investigate and stop national trends that don’t exist. We have seen historic lows in the country’s crime rate and a downward trend in killings against police officers since the 1980s,” said Jeffery Robinson, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union. “The president not only doesn’t acknowledge these facts about our nation’s safety, he persists in ignoring the all-too-real deaths of Black and brown people at the hands of law enforcement.”

In addition to tackling crime, Mr. Sessions said he would deploy the Justice Department to fight terrorism and illegal immigration.

“You said something that I believe and I think the American people believe, that we need a lawful system of immigration,” Mr. Sessions told the president during brief remarks after taking the oath. “One that serves the interests of the people of the United States. That’s not wrong. That’s not immoral. That’s not indecent.”

The new attorney general said that the U.S. admits more than a million lawful immigrants a year but illegal immigration was damaging the country.

“We need to end this lawlessness that threatens the public safety and pulls down wages of working Americans,” Mr. Sessions said.

• S.A. Miller contributed to this report.

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