Top Justice Department officials were a “driving force” behind the Trump administration’s child separation policy, according to a draft inspector general report obtained by The New York Times.
Then-Attorney Jeff Sessions pushed the policy to prosecutors when they “recoiled” at an order to prosecute all undocumented immigrants even if it required taking away their children.
“We need to take away children,” Sessions told the prosecutors, according to participants’ notes. Another note added in shorthand, “If care about kids, don’t bring them in. Won’t give amnesty to people with kids.”
The prosecutors had told Sessions they were “deeply concerned” about the wellbeing of the children.
Then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein then went further, telling the five prosecutors that it “did not matter how young the children were” after a prosecutor declined to prosecute two cases because the children were “barely more than infants.”
“Those two cases should not have been declined,” departing US Attorney John Bash, who declined the cases, wrote to his staff after Rosenstein overruled him. “Per the A.G.’s policy, we should NOT be categorically declining immigration prosecutions of adults in family units because of the age of a child.”
Sessions tried to distance himself:
Sessions tried to distance himself from the policy, allowing Trump and the Department of Homeland Security to shoulder the blame for a decision he himself announced.
“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 IG report said.
Sessions refused interview:
Sessions refused to be interviewed for the report. Rosenstein defended himself in a 64-page response.
“If any United States attorney ever charged a defendant they did not personally believe warranted prosecution, they violated their oath of office,” Rosenstein said in a statement. “I never ordered anyone to prosecute a case.”
The DOJ disputed the report.
“The draft report relied on for this article contains numerous factual errors and inaccuracies,” a spokesperson said. “While D.O.J. 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.”