Sunday, November 27, 2016

Annals of Deception: Jeff Sessions

Photo via Politico.
From the Wikipedia biography (in its current state) of United States Attorney General–Designate Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, on his experience as US Attorney in Alabama in 1981-93:
Sessions' office investigated the 1981 killing of Michael Donald, a young African-American man who was murdered in Mobile, Alabama by a pair of Ku Klux Klanmembers.[13][14] Session's office did not prosecute the case, but both men were arrested and convicted.[15]
As a U.S. Attorney he filed several cases to desegregate schools in Alabama. And he also prosecuted Klansman Henry Francis Hays, son of Alabama Klan leader Bennie Hays, for abducting and killing Michael Donald, a black teenager selected at random. Sessions insisted on the death penalty for Hays.[16]
That second paragraph startled me for a few reasons, especially because it wasn't there last time I looked at this (which wasn't long ago at all), and because it directly contradicts the first paragraph, for which I'd checked the documentation—duh, of course Sessions did not prosecute the Michael Donald lynching case (nobody ever calls it a lynching, but the killers hung their victim's body from a tree), since he was US Attorney and the case was tried in state court by Mobile District Attorney Chris Galanos; and because in this way there is a demonstrable lie in a Wikipedia article, which really pisses me off.

The paragraph was added on November 25 between 17:46 and 17:59 by somebody under the username Azarbarzin, and the link is to a November 18 article by Mark Hemingway in the Weekly Standard, which seems to be based on lies Sessions told Hemingway:
Sessions's actual track record certainly doesn't suggest he's a racist. Quite the opposite, in fact. As a U.S. Attorney he filed several cases to desegregate schools in Alabama. And he also prosecuted Klansman Henry Francis Hays, son of Alabama Klan leader Bennie Hays, for abducting and killing Michael Donald, a black teenager selected at random. Sessions insisted on the death penalty for Hays. When he was later elected the state Attorney General, Sessions followed through and made sure Hays was executed. The successful prosecution of Hays also led to a $7 million civil judgment against the Klan, effectively breaking the back of the KKK in Alabama.
Hemingway knows this is false, as he notes in an undated update to the story:
That characterization of Sessions's involvement in Henry Francis Hays was based on this quote from when I interviewed Sessions in 2009: "I prosecuted the head of the Klan for murdering somebody, and I insisted the klansman be given the death penalty. When I became attorney general years later, I handled that appeal and ensured that he was, in fact, executed."
At the time I wrote this seven years ago, and when I wrote the piece Friday, I did not understand this to be Sessions saying he "prosecuted" Hays in the narrow sense of the word or that he was trying to take credit for the work of the Mobile County district attorney. Hays was obviously tried in state court. However, Sessions's office did a lot of initial investigation and legwork on the case, and my understanding was that Sessions worked with the DA to make sure that the case got into state court specifically for the reason of seeking the death penalty.
He may not have "understood" it that way, but he said it that way, and it's false. Nor does he say where his "understanding" as to what the DA and Sessions did together came from. Henry Francis Hays was not the "head of the Klan"—it was his father, Bennie Hays, who was the leader of the local organization and who ordered the killing and who got off unpunished (dying after a mistrial), though he's clearly the one Sessions should have prosecuted, for civil rights violations. It's just a ridiculous rationalization for the evident fact that Sessions lied about that, as well as at least a couple of other things.

Plus the fact that the uncorrected paragraph is now in Wikipedia (Azarbarzin having either failed to read the "update" or pretended not to have).

As a matter of fact, the excellent blog of Peter Risdon has found some testimony from DA Galanos himself, now a Mobile County judge, that Sessions did help him out with the case, if not by "making sure the case got into state court" (lolwut? where else was it supposed to go?) or by "insisting" on the death penalty: Galanos just says Sessions pushed the FBI to work with Galanos in their investigation, as if the Bureau needed special cajoling before it would do its job, adding that
he’s not a racist. I have never heard him even suggest racist comments. Either publicly or privately and I spent a lot of private time with him.
There's certainly no evidence anywhere that Sessions or any other federal official had anything to do with defeating the appeal of Hays's death sentence.

The case was an extremely important element in the breaking of KKK power in Alabama in the 1980s, in that $7-million judgment, but there is no reason to think Sessions had anything to do with that either. Credit primarily goes to the murdered kid's heroic mother, Beulah Mae Donald, and the Southern Poverty Law Center, who filed the suit.

And to Mrs. Donald's lawyer, Thomas Figures, who just happens to have been the very same African American assistant US attorney who testified to the US Senate in 1986, when the Senate was considering Sessions's nomination for district judge, that Sessions used to call him "boy" and make insensitive jokes about the Ku Klux Klan and once said of civil rights cases "I wish I could decline on all of them". Which seems to be one of the reasons why the Senate refused to confirm him (he was also opposed by the NAACP, the Leadership Council for Civil Rights, and People for the American Way, and four DOJ lawyers who had worked with him, so there's that).

Figures was later indicted on federal bribery charges, in 1992 (he was said to have offered $50,000 to a convicted drug dealer to testify on behalf of a criminal client); the charge was apparently baseless, went nowhere, and did not prevent Figures from becoming a municipal judge in Mobile (he passed away in 2015). But Figures always thought Sessions, as US Attorney, had arranged the indictment with his DOJ connections to retaliate against Figures for his Senate testimony. (I can't help wondering if fear of the Sessions vindictiveness could have been what led Galanos to give that improbable statement about what a total non-racist Sessions is.)

No evidence has yet been found for what work in school desegregation Sessions has been claiming to have done. It can't have been actually ordering schools to desegregate, though, as
By Sessions’ term as U.S. attorney in the 1980s, segregation by law had ended in all Alabama schools, though dozens of districts worked under court-ordered restrictions – usually known as “consent decrees” – meant to make sure schools were desegregated in fact. Many school systems remain under those orders today, with occasional court hearings to assess their progress.
Only five new desegregation orders were imposed in the United States as a whole during the period, not one in Alabama. In other civil rights cases in Alabama during the period, he seems not to have played a very useful role from the point of the DOJ attorneys that ran them:
In news accounts from the time, lawyers from the Civil Rights Division seemed to be in the lead in most civil rights cases in Alabama. Among those most often mentioned is Gerald Hebert – who would later testify against Sessions’ nomination in the 1986 hearing.
In short, there's no evidence other than Session's word as a Southern gentleman that he ever did a damned thing for school desegregation or for civil rights in general in his career as an Alabama US Attorney or as state attorney general, other than to convince Judge Galanos that he wasn't a racist, while failing to convince a number of other witnesses of the same (Galanos, unlike Figures and Hebert, didn't testify under oath either, ). And his word isn't very good since we know that he lied on the subject in the interview Hemingway cites.

He's made up this big case about what an ardent civil rights advocate he's been throughout his life, an attorney general's résumé, and it's a fake; hardly any of the details check out. He's absolutely lying about some of it.

Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III is in fact an extremely dishonest and self-serving person in this connection, as well as being an inveterate opponent of civil rights law in his time on the Senate Judiciary Committee, who should not on those grounds be confirmed as Attorney General of the United States, whether anybody thinks he's a racist or not. Together with the fact that he's on the record as saying that "grabbing women by the pussy" does not constitute sexual assault, and is in general a "petty, vindictive little man". He's a bad man, too, and he can't be trusted. I'll get to getting that Wikipedia entry fixed later on.

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