Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a task force Monday dedicated to bringing to heel designated transnational criminal organizations such as MS-13, Hezbollah and three drug cartels.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein will head the task force, which will have a subcommittee for each of the five notorious groups: the El Salvador-based street gang known as MS-13, the terrorist organization Lebanese Hezbollah, and international drug cartels Clan del Golfo, the Sinaloa Cartel, and Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion.
“Transnational criminal organizations — whether they are gangs, drug trafficking cartels or terrorist groups — are a scourge,” Mr. Rosenstein said in a rare joint appearance alongside the attorney general. “They sow violence and sell poisonous drugs. They bribe public officials and fuel corruption. They terrorize law-abiding citizens.”
Mr. Sessions told reporters that the task force was born of President Trump’s executive order to dismantle transnational criminal orders. The attorney general said the Justice Department has followed through on the president’s demand and added that the department has “hammered” MS-13 since the early days of the administration.
“Taking on … the cartels is a priority for this president and for his administration,” Mr. Sessions said.
The task force will part of a multifront campaign, Mr. Rosenstein said. Each of the task force’s five subgroups will have a team of federal prosecutors with experience dealing with that criminal organization.
For example, the MS-13 subcommittee will be led by Assistant U.S. Attorney John Durham of the U.S. Eastern District of New York, where hundreds of MS-13 members have been arrested as part of the FBI’s Long Island Task Force.
Each subcommittee will be required to provide specific recommendations within 90 days on how to “disrupt and dismantle” the targeted criminal organizations through prosecution, diplomacy or other means.
The press conference was a rare joint public appearance for Mr. Sessions and Mr. Rosenstein, who have been frequent targets of the president because of the Russia investigation.
The New York Times reported last month that Mr. Rosenstein had discussed secretly taping Mr. Trump and sought to remove him from office via the 25th Amendment. The story fueled media speculation that Mr. Rosenstein would be fired or resign.
Those rumors were put to rest last week when Mr. Rosenstein and Mr. Trump traveled together aboard Air Force One to a law enforcement conference in Orlando, Florida. The president said the two had a “great conversation” during the trip.
But Mr. Sessions has also been on thin ice with the president for recusing himself from special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
“I don’t have an attorney general,” Mr. Trump told The Hill last month.
On Monday, Mr. Rosenstein praised Mr. Sessions, emphasizing his commitment to the president’s agenda.
“He is a public servant of the highest order,” Mr. Rosenstein said of the attorney general. “He is here to deliver on President Trump’s commitment to make America safe.”