Former Massachusetts Gov. Patrick Blasts Trump’s Nomination of Sessions To Be AG
By Evan Lips | January 3, 2017, 22:44 EDT
Former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick has inserted himself into the debate over President-elect Donald Trump’s pick of Alabama Republican Senator Jeff Sessions to be the next U.S. attorney general, labeling Sessions “the wrong person to place in charge of our justice system.”
Patrick’s sharply worded three-page letter to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee landed in Washington on the same day that several NAACP members elected to “occupy” Sessions’s office in Mobile, Alabama to try to force him to withdraw his name from AG consideration:
— Cornell Wm. Brooks (@CornellWBrooks) January 3, 2017
In his letter Patrick cites his experience facing Sessions inside an Alabama courtroom in 1985, when Sessions was a federal prosecutor, in a voter fraud case.
Patrick, a Milton Democrat who now works for Boston investment banking giant Bain Capital, won’t be present when the committee begins its deliberations, citing “long-planned travel overseas.”
According to Patrick, it was attorney Lartease Tiffith, counsel to Democratic ranking committee member Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, who advised him to submit his letter to committee chairman and Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley.
“Our nation needs a healing,” Patrick wrote at one point in his letter. “The tenor and divisiveness of the recent presidential campaign — whether one cheered or grieved the outcome — discouraged many Americans.”
Patrick cited his “personal experience” as a staff lawyer working for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. It was in 1985 that Patrick defended one of three community activists being targeted by federal prosecutors over voter fraud allegations.
Sessions, who served as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama from 1981 until 1993, was the lead prosecutor. The defendants, known as the “Marion Three” after Marion, Alabama, were eventually acquitted.
Patrick in his letter claimed that Sessions’s theory in prosecuting the case “was that it is a federal crime for someone to help someone else to vote or to advise them how they should vote.”
“Pursuing that case was an act of extraordinary quasi-judicial activist,” Patrick wrote. “My objection is not that Mr. Sessions lost that case. It was that he undertook to bring it at all.”
Patrick pointed out that the case became a focal point in the committee’s decision to deny Sessions a federal judgeship nomination in 1986.
A November 28 Washington Post report revisited the case soon after Trump nominated Sessions. The story reported that federal investigators, who were not acting under Sessions’s direction, alleged that the three activists had tampered with absentee ballots in a 1984 primary in order to help candidates who had been endorsed by the Perry County Civic League, an influential political group founded by one of the defendants, Albert Turner.
Turner, a former aide to Martin Luther King Jr., apparently told investigators that his group had altered absentee ballots of elderly and illiterate voters but only after getting their consent.
Patrick, however, declined to use the “altering-of-ballots” phrase in his letter and instead described the nature of the ordeal “as informal as asking one’s spouse how to vote or as formal as conforming to the designated slate of a political party or advocacy group.”
A majority-black grand jury in Alabama reviewed evidence stemming from a similar voter fraud allegation made in 1982. The grand jury, according to records, determined there was enough evidence to prove that tampering had occurred, particularly with votes cast by black Perry County citizens. Despite their requests for federal investigators to intervene, Sessions declined to pursue the matter, but revisited similar allegations made following the 1984 election by black officeholders.
Perry County — with a population of about 15,000 — had seen more absentee ballots filed in 1984 than Jefferson County, which boasted a population of more than 700,000. Witnesses reportedly told investigators their ballots had been altered.
Asked during his 1986 nomination proceedings about his decision to prosecute the activists, Sessions testified that he felt it his obligation as the investigation had turned up evidence and he had failed to act on that similar request made in 1982.
According to the Post, Sessions was not personally involved in the 1985 case until it was nearing its end and noted that he only had two of his office’s eight attorneys assigned to the case, while the defense team — which included Patrick — featured 10 lawyers. According to court reports, several witnesses who originally told the FBI that their votes had been altered without permission later testified the opposite.
In a 2009, Sessions told National Review he was convinced he did the right thing in electing to prosecute the three activists but added that he “failed to make the case.”
Sessions also noted at the time of the 2009 interview that his office “filed 20 or 30 civil rights cases to desegregate schools and politics organizations and county commissions” in addition to his successful prosecution of prominent member of the Ku Klux Klan for murder.
But Patrick in his letter argues that Sessions “investigated only the use of absentee ballots by black voters and only where white incumbents were losing political ground.”
Patrick also claimed that Sessions “authorized the FBI to eavesdrop” on Perry County Civic League activists and intimidated the testifying witnesses, who “were old and frail,” by “loading them onto a bus under armed federal, state and local police guard and driving them 160 miles to Mobile for grand jury testimony.”
“For 30 years I have viewed the prosecution of the Perry County Three as a cautionary tale,” Patrick wrote. “I believe it demonstrates what can happen when prosecutorial discretion is unchecked, when regard for facts is secondary to political objectives.”
Patrick also cited “hate crimes assaults” being “on the rise” and happening “all over the country” against “black and brown citizens, against women, against immigrants.”
In a May 2015 interview with BuzzFeed.com, Patrick called Sessions’s prosecution “a response to growing black political power.”
The nomination hearing for Sessions begins on Tuesday, January 10.
Read a copy of Patrick’s letter:
UPDATE 10 p.m. —
— The Hill (@thehill) January 4, 2017