'We need to take away children': Bombshell report alleges former AG Jeff Sessions and Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein were aggressively in favor of separating migrant families at the US-Mexico border

Sarah Al-Arshani
·4 min read
jeff sessions
Jeff Sessions. Associated Press/Vasha Hunt
  • A draft report from the Justice Department's inspector general said former Attorney General Jeff Session and former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein were "a driving force" behind President Donald Trump's child-separation policy at the US-Mexico border, The New York Times reported on Tuesday.

  • Sessions and Rosenstein called for the separation of children no matter how young they were, the draft report found, according to The Times.

  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Former Attorney General Jeff Session and other top Justice Department officials were "a driving force" behind President Donald Trump's child-separation policy at the US-Mexico border, a new draft report from the department's inspector general said, according to The New York Times.

The Times reported on Tuesday that the draft report on Michael Horowitz's investigation into the "zero tolerance" policy said 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, is subject to change, the newspaper said.

The Times said it reviewed the 86-page draft report — which cited "more than 45 interviews with key officials, emails and other documents" — and spoke with three government officials who had read it. MSNBC's Jacob Soboroff tweeted late Tuesday that NBC News had also seen the draft report and confirmed The Times' reporting.

The Times said five attorneys general had told Justice Department officials in May 2018 that they were "deeply concerned" about orders to prosecute immigrants at the border even if they had to separate kids from their parents.

"We need to take away children," Sessions reportedly told the prosecutors on a call that month.

The Times said a prosecutor described what Sessions said in a note: "If care about kids, don't bring them in. Won't give amnesty to people with kids."

Sessions did not comment to The Times or for the inspector general's report.

Soon after that call, Rosenstein doubled down on Sessions' message, telling the prosecutors that they should not have refused to prosecute two cases because the kids were very young, The Times reported.

Rosenstein defended himself to investigators and told The Times: "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."

The Times reported that after Rosenstein's call, John Bash, the US attorney in western Texas at the time, told his staff, "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 Trump administration's "zero-tolerance" immigration policy 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."

Women who were breastfeeding have said immigration authorities separated them from their babies at the border. According to The Times, the draft report seemed to confirm this, with a prosecutor writing, "I did not believe this until I looked at the duty log."

Trump, Sessions, and other members of the administration tried to distance themselves from the child-separation policy after it came under intense criticism. Trump at one point falsely claimed that Democrats were behind the policy.

In the draft report, Horowitz wrote that while Sessions largely allowed the blame to fall on Trump and officials from the Department of Homeland Security, 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.

The news of Sessions' push for the policy led to sharp criticism.

"Send him to The Hague," Rep. Rashida Tlaib said in a tweet.

The DOJ did not reply to Business Insider's request for comment 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."

Read The New York Times' full report »

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