ByJessica Huseman and Annie Waldman | ProPublica |
For decades, the Department of Justice has used court-enforced agreements to protect civil rights, successfully desegregating school systems, reforming police departments, ensuring access for the disabled and defending the religious. Now, under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the DOJ appears to be turning away from this storied tool, called consent decrees. Top officials in the DOJ civil rights division have issued verbal instructions through the ranks to seek settlements without consent decrees — which would result in no continuing court oversight. The move is just one part of a move by the Trump administration to limit federal civil rights enforcement. Other departments have scaled back the power of their internal divisions that monitor such abuses.
In yet another high-profile Senate Intelligence Committee hearing that received gavel-to-gavel coverage from news networks, one of New Mexico’s U.S senators played a featured role. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions testified in front of the committee, with Democrats pressing the former Republican U.S. Senator on a variety of issues, including his contacts with Russian officials. In a number of cases, Sessions declined to answer, frustrating senators who sought answers. Sen. Martin Heinrich, New Mexico’s junior U.S. Senator, said Sessions’ refusal to answer questions amounted to “impeding” and “obstructing” congressional investigations. Heinrich’s questions to Sessions began with the senator asking if President Donald Trump “ever expressed his frustration” after Sessions announced he would recuse himself from the investigation into ties between those close to Trump and Russia during the elections.
U.S. Sens. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts led 11 senators in calling for an investigation into Attorney General Jeff Sessions and whether his role in the firing of former FBI Director James Comey violated his recusal from any investigation into Russian ties with those close to President Donald Trump. The letter, which was also signed by New Mexico U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, was sent to the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Justice Tuesday. In the letter, the senators said Session’s “recusal language itself could not be clearer.”
They also seek answers to three questions: to what extent Sessions was required to recuse himself from the investigation, the scope of his recusal and the timeline of his involvement in Comey’s firing. The letter notes that Sessions met with Trump and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to discuss the removal of Comey on May 8.
The city of Santa Fe joined 33 other cities and counties in a lawsuit against the federal government over President Donald Trump’s executive order on sanctuary cities. Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales, a Democrat, has been an outspoken opponent of Trump’s war on sanctuary cities. Trump promised to halt federal funding to the areas, arguing that by not aiding federal authorities in enforcing immigration laws, the communities are protecting criminals. The amicus brief in the lawsuit brought by Santa Clara County in California says Trump’s executive order violates the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, violates the Constitution’s Due Process Clause and does not provide procedural due process. The brief asks for a nationwide injunction.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions asked the remaining U.S. Attorneys appointed by Barack Obama to resign on Friday. Damon Martinez, the U.S. Attorney from New Mexico, resigned Friday, according to a statement from his office. First Assistant U.S. Attorney James D. Tierney is the Acting U.S. Attorney until a new U.S. Attorney is confirmed by the U.S. Senate. A U.S. Department of Justice spokeswoman announced in a statement Friday afternoon “many” of the Obama-nominated U.S. Attorneys had already left their positions. “The Attorney General has now asked the remaining 46 presidentially appointed U.S. Attorneys to tender their resignations in order to ensure a uniform transition,” Sarah Isgur Flores said.
Comments from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions last week that he intends to “pull back on” federal oversight of police departments drew mixed reactions from officers and civil rights advocates in Albuquerque, where a police reform agreement between the city and the Justice Department is nearing the midway point of its third year. Reform proponents told New Mexico In Depth they were troubled by Sessions’ remarks, and they are ready to step in to ensure that APD adheres to constitutional policing if the federal government steps away. The president of the Albuquerque police union, meanwhile, said officers were pleased with the tone of support from the attorney general. The rank and file hope his comments could signal a softening of what they see as the agreement’s more onerous requirements. So far, though, the agreement and its effect on APD personnel have continued unabated since Donald Trump took office on Jan.
One U.S. Senator from New Mexico says U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions should resign after reports that he misled Congress over his contact with the Russian ambassador last year during the presidential campaign. U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, a Democrat, said in a statement Thursday that a special counsel should investigate the Trump administration and its alleged ties to the Russian government. “Attorney General Sessions’ statements to Congress, under oath, were at best misleading, and that is concerning in and of itself,” Udall said. “In the context of the Trump administration’s lack of full disclosure about its connections to Russia, Attorney General Sessions has raised so many doubts about his integrity and his ability to lead the Department of Justice that I believe the nation would be better off if he resigned.”
Sen. Martin Heinrich, another Democrat, did not immediately call for Sessions’ resignation. “Attorney General Sessions needs to come clean,” Heinrich said in a statement to NM Political Report.
Hours after Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren was reprimanded for challenging the integrity of a fellow Senator by reading a letter from Coretta Scott King, the widow of Martin Luther King, Jr., New Mexico U.S. Sen. Tom Udall read the letter on the Senate floor without question. Later on Wednesday, new Mexico’s other U.S. Senator read part of the Coretta Scott King letter and criticized the Senate for their actions on Warren. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i715XvBCkio&feature=youtu.be
Tuesday night, Warren tried to read the letter before her senate colleagues. King’s letter criticized Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions when he unsuccessfully sought a judgeship in the 1980s. In the letter, Coretta Scott King said she opposed his confirmation to a federal judgeship.
The U.S. Senate is working its way through President Donald Trump’s nominees for key positions. Republicans have generally been supportive of Trump’s nominees, with
a few exceptions. Democrats have largely picked their battles over nominations, allowing some to sail through, while delaying others. NM Political Report will continue to track the floor votes by Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich on each of the nominees. When either of the Senators said before a vote, either in a statement or in a news story, that they would support or oppose a nominee, NM Political Report will indicate that.