Sessions, 69, is currently serving his fourth Senate term and was the first sitting senator to endorse Trump. During Trump’s campaign, he served as a key validator from within the Republican establishment at critical times and urged Republicans to coalesce around Trump.
When asked whether Sessions had been offered the attorney general position, Republican National Committee spokesman Sean Spicer told CNN Friday, “until Donald Trump says it, it’s not official.”
United by their hardline stance against illegal immigration, Sessions helped Trump craft his campaign’s national security policy. His top policy adviser, Stephen Miller, also joined Trump’s campaign.
Sessions was one of President Barack Obama‘s fiercest opponents, voting against his nominees to the Supreme Court from his post on the Judiciary Committee and opposing Obama’s other major domestic initiatives.
He’s broken ranks with Republicans, as well, voting against the bank bailout amid the 2008 economic collapse.
The former US attorney for the Southern District of Alabama and Alabama attorney general isn’t without controversy. His appointment to a federal district court by then-President Ronald Reagan sank when a former Justice Department employee testified that Sessions had made racially tinged remarks.
A black Justice Department staffer said Sessions had called him “boy” and claimed he had thought the Ku Klux Klan “were OK until I found out they smoked pot.”
Sessions was mentioned as a potential running mate for Trump and advised him on his selection of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who is now helming Trump’s transition effort.
In May, Trump called Sessions a “fantastic person.”
The Alabama senator said during a taping of Politico’s “Off Message” podcast that same month that “the leaders in all parties tend to adjust to reality. They just have to or they won’t remain in office … Already, many are sensing it.”
Sessions has also defended one of Trump’s most controversial policy proposals: His ban on Muslims traveling into the United States.
“He simply said, and the way I understand it is, that we should slow down. Let’s have a pause and begin to analyze where the threats are coming from,” Sessions told CNN in June, amid questions about whether Trump’s position was shifting. “We have a toxic ideology, hopefully very small within Islam; certainly most people, most Muslims don’t agree with this violent, jihadist approach. And we need to figure out a better way to identify that.”
In the past, Sessions has signaled support for a no-fly zone in Syria.
“We need to consider the political ramifications. What’s happening to Europe as a result of refugee flows is just incredible. Three senior European officials told me the European Union is threatened by this, the very existence of it,” he said in a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in January 2016.
He has also critiqued Obama’s handling of Syria.
“The situation in Syria is a colossal disaster. I do not believe it had to happen. I believe a wise statesman could have foreseen some of the difficulties we’re facing today. And we should have been more cautious and careful in our declarations of how we expect Syria to develop over the years. It hasn’t developed like President Obama projected. And disaster has been the situation,” Sessions said at a September hearing. “It seems to me that the problem is that, with our support, ISIS is being damaged, but they’re not utterly destroyed.”
Like Trump, Sessions has questioned whether European countries are contributing enough to NATO.
“I am wondering do they have a will to survive themselves and/or have they just gotten in the habit of expecting us to step up to the plate to fund their defense. It is an unacceptable thing,” he said in March.
Trump has offered retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn the role of national security advisor, a transition official told CNN Thursday.
It was not immediately clear if Flynn accepted. Asked about the decision, Republican National Committee spokesman Sean Spicer told CNN Friday “one of the things that you need to understand about President-elect Trump is that until he says something, it’s not official.”
Flynn, 57, was a top adviser and high-profile surrogate to Trump during his campaign, introducing the President-elect at rallies and serving as a top cheerleader on his hyper-active Twitter feed.
His potential appointment wouldn’t require Senate confirmation, which is potentially helpful for Trump, as Flynn has a long history of controversial remarks and was fired as President Barack Obama’s director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014.
Flynn wrote in his 2016 book, “The Field of Fight,” that he was booted from Obama’s administration by “censors” who were unhappy he’d told a congressional committee “that we were not as safe as we had been a few years back.”
US officials said Flynn was pushed out because of his contentious management style.
Flynn’s Twitter feed — regularly updated with pro-Trump comments — is another source of potential scrutiny. Flynn apologized in July after retweeting a message that bashed Jewish people.
The retweet came after Hillary Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook said on CNN that Russia was to blame for hacks of the Democratic National Committee.
“The corrupt Democratic machine will do and say anything to get #NeverHillary into power. This is a new low,” Flynn tweeted. With it, he shared a link to a tweet by a user who had written, “>Cnn implicated. ‘The USSR is to blame!’ … Not anymore, Jews. Not anymore.”
Flynn later apologized, saying he’d only meant to retweet Mook’s remarks.
A critical role
First created in the early days of the Cold War, the job of national security advisor is seen as critical to implementing a president’s worldview on the various departments and agencies involved in national security. Famous national security advisers who made a major impact on American foreign policy have included Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft. Susan Rice is the current national security advisor.
Flynn enjoys tremendous access and credibility with Trump, especially because he’s had several tours of duty on the battlefield.
“What makes Gen. Flynn different from so many others that we’ve heard about on Donald Trump’s transition team is he is the one with the real experience fighting on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq,” said Peter Bergen, CNN’s national security analyst.
“Certainly, he would be a very plausible candidate for national security advisor, which is arguably the most important national security position in the government,” Bergen added.
The question may be whether his management style rubs people the wrong way.
Given Trump’s reputation for loyalty, it is no surprise that Flynn would find himself in a key role in the Trump administration.
Flynn, having only retired from the Army in 2014, is actually limited in the positions he could fill. By law, military officers must be out of uniform for at least seven years before they are eligible to become secretary of defense, though it is possible that Congress could grant a waiver that would allow Flynn to be named to that post.
Even before it was announced, the idea of Flynn becoming national security advisor was met with opposition from some Democrats.
Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking member on the House Select Committee on Intelligence, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer Wednesday, “I’d be worried about an impulsive president with an impulsive national security advisor.”
Handling of classified information
At the Republican National Convention, amid shouts of “lock her up” from the audience, Flynn delivered a fiery speech condemning Clinton’s handling of emails on her private server.
“I have called on Hillary Clinton to drop out of the race because she put our nation’s security at extremely high risk with her careless use of a private email server,” Flynn said.
Flynn’s own record with classified information has been called into question during his military career. On at least two occasions, his handling of classified information came under scrutiny by the US military.
Two former government officials with direct knowledge of the issue tell CNN that while Flynn oversaw intelligence in Afghanistan, he shared classified information with Pakistan on terror networks responsible for killing American troops. The intelligence, the sources say, came from another agency. Flynn wasn’t supposed to share it. They say he was trying to convince Pakistan to stop sheltering terrorists.
Asked by email about the allegation, Flynn told CNN, “It is not true … not even close.” Flynn declined to comment further.
In separate incident, the two officials with whom CNN spoke said Flynn did not follow established security procedures when he shared classified intelligence with allies.
In an August interview with The Washington Post, Flynn has acknowledged the incident.
“The investigation on me was for sharing intelligence with the Brits and Australians in combat, and I’m proud of that one,” he told the paper. “That was substantiated because I actually did it.”
Flynn says he had permission to share the classified information. In both cases, sources say the retired general was informally reprimanded but never charged with wrongdoing.
In 2010, while still a serving senior officer, he published an article criticizing the state of US intelligence operations in Afghanistan. CNN has learned the CIA was so furious at Flynn for publicly disclosing shortfalls that the agency complained to the Pentagon, which had signed off on the article.
Governor Dannel P. Malloy released the following statement Friday afternoon regarding the announcement:
“The U.S. Attorney General has a tremendous responsibility as the country’s top lawyer, chief law enforcement office and leader of the Department of Justice. The people of our country count on the Attorney General to ensure that the scales of justice are fairly balanced and that the system is not disproportionately set against one individual or group of citizens.
U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions has a troubling track record on matters such as civil liberty protections and a history of demonstrating poor judgement as evidenced by his previous pejorative, insensitive comments towards people of color. These comments must be scrutinized during his confirmation hearings.
Regardless of the outcome of those hearings, reducing recidivism rates, lowering crime rates, and improving life outcomes for offenders should not be a partisan issue. Sen. Sessions has shown a willingness to improve the justice system by supporting his home state’s drug courts as well as efforts to address disparities in sentencing laws. Republicans such as Gov. Robert Bentley of Alabama, Gov. Nathan Deal of Georgia, and Gov. Matt Bevin of Kentucky have shown clear support for these goals. Here in Connecticut, we’re proving that smarter, fairer approaches to these problems can and do lead to better outcomes. The changes we have made to our criminal justice system have resulted in lower crime rate, safer communities, and fewer people caught up in the cycle of crime, prison and poverty.
Much more needs to be done here in Connecticut, and nationally. While Sen. Sessions’ past behavior, comments and actions give cause for real concern, should he be confirmed as our next U.S. Attorney General, I strongly urge he and the administration to follow the bipartisan work being done in Connecticut and elsewhere to make our criminal justice system more fair and cost-effective.”
The Associated Press and CNN contributed to this report.