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Former Attorney General Jeff Session along with other top Justice Department officials were a “driving force” behind President Donald Trump’s child separation policy at the border, a new draft report of findings by DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz said.
The New York Times reported that according to a draft report of the results of Horowitz’s investigation into the “zero tolerance” policy, both Sessions and former deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein called for the separation of children no matter how young they were. The draft, which is being reviewed by officials before its release, is subject to change.
The draft report cited more than 45 interviews with key officials, and emails and other documents. The Times reviewed the draft and spoke to sources who had read the 86-page draft report. NBC News and MSNBC’s Jacob Soboroff tweeted the NBC News had also seen the report and said it confirmed The Times’ findings.
“We need to take away children,” Sessions reportedly told five prosecutors who were “deeply concerned” about orders to prosecute all illegal immigrants even if they had to separate the kids from their parents during a call in May 2018. Sessions did not comment to The Times, or for the IG’s report.
According to another prosecutor’s notes, Sessions added: “If care about kids, don’t bring them in. Won’t give amnesty to people with kids.”
Later that week, Rosenstein double down on Sessions’ message telling the prosecutors that they should not have refused to prosecute two cases because the kids were basically infants and insisted that it didn’t matter how young the children were. Rosenstein defended himself in response to the draft; The Times reported his statement: “If any United States attorney ever charged a defendant they did not personally believe warranted prosecution, they violated their oath of office. I never ordered anyone to prosecute a case.”
After that call, John Bash, the departing US attorney in Western Texas District told his staff that Rosenstein “instructed that, per the AG’s policy, we should NOT be categorically declining immigration prosecutions of adults in family units because of the age of a child,” The Times reported.
The Trump administration faced criticism for its “zero-tolerance” immigration policy that led to thousands of migrant children being separated from their parents at the US-Mexico border
In May 2018, Sessions said in a speech announcing the policy: “If you cross the border unlawfully, even a first offense, then we’re going to prosecute you.”
He added: “If you smuggle an illegal alien across the border, then we’ll prosecute you for smuggling. If you’re smuggling a child, then we’re going to prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you probably, as required by law. If you don’t want your child to be separated, then don’t bring them across the border illegally. It’s not our fault that somebody does that.”
Breastfeeding mothers have claimed they were removed from their babies at the border. One detained woman alleged in June 2018 that immigration authorities took her infant daughter from her while she was breastfeeding.
The Times piece, citing the draft, seemed to confirm that the government was taking breastfeeding mothers from their babies, with a government prosecutor writing, “I did not believe this until I looked at the duty log.”
Trump, Sessions, and other members of his administration repeatedly tried to distance themselves from the child separation policy after it came under sharp public criticism.
Trump at one-point falsely claimed that Democrats were behind the policy.
In the draft report, Horowitz wrote that while Sessions allowed Trump and Homeland Security Department officials to largely be blamed for the policy, he understood that it entailed separating kids from their families and was on board because he thought it would deter illegal immigration.
“The department’s single-minded focus on increasing prosecutions came at the expense of careful and effective implementation of the policy, especially with regard to prosecution of family-unit adults and the resulting child separations,” the draft report said, according to The Times.
News of Sessions push for the policy to be implemented has garnered criticism.
“Send him to The Hague,” Rep. Rashida Tlaib said in a tweet.
Jeff Sessions: “We need to take away children,” Mr. Sessions told the prosecutors, according to participants’ notes. https://t.co/YGXk4abd63
No, this is not President Xi talking about incarcerating Uighurs. This is the former US AG.
— Hans Kristensen (@nukestrat) October 7, 2020
The DOJ did not reply to Business Insider’s request for comment at the time of publication but told The Times: “The draft report relied on for this article contains numerous factual errors and inaccuracies. While DOJ is responsible for the prosecutions of defendants, it had no role in tracking or providing custodial care to the children of defendants. Finally, both the timing and misleading content of this leak raise troubling questions about the motivations of those responsible for it.”
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