Washington, Sep 9 (AP/UNB) — Attorney General Jeff Sessions has vigorously pushed President Donald Trump's agenda at the Justice Department, and before that, spent 20 years championing conservative causes in the Senate.
Yet as Sessions enters what may be the final stretch of his tenure, those efforts are at risk of being eclipsed by his boss' relentless verbal jabs that have made the attorney general seem like a perpetual presidential punching bag. It's a role Sessions never sought but perhaps could have anticipated.
The steady diatribes , most recently a tweet excoriating Sessions for the federal indictments of two Republican congressmen, reflect Trump's single-minded outrage over the special counsel's Russia investigation and are all the more striking because Sessions is the cabinet member most clearly aligned with Trump's values.
The treatment has largely overshadowed the attorney general's work on violent crime, illegal immigration and opioid addiction, clouding a legacy that in other times would be more broadly cheered in conservative circles.
"There are folks that ask me constantly, 'What's wrong with Sessions?'" said former Cincinnati mayor Ken Blackwell, a longtime friend who says the criticism is "eroding what otherwise would be a very respectable portfolio."
"The punches that he throws in Sessions' direction are landing and they're distorting the track record," Blackwell added, "and they're having people start to question not just his loyalty to the president but his competency — when his record is a very successful record and could be compared to any other Cabinet secretary."
Sessions has mostly absorbed the blows quietly while marching through a tough-on-crime agenda, bringing to the job the same hard-line principles that once placed him far to the right of many other Republican senators.
He has encouraged more aggressive marijuana enforcement, directed prosecutors to bring the most serious charges they can prove, announced a zero-tolerance policy for immigrants crossing the border illegally and targeted the MS-13 gang. He also has alarmed his critics, who fear he has degraded civil rights protections by not defending affirmative action, police reform or transgender legal rights.
But neither Sessions' work nor his loyalty seems to resonate with Trump. The president has belittled his attorney general since Sessions stepped aside from an investigation into ties between Trump's 2016 campaign and Russia. Trump interpreted the move, which legal experts said was inevitable given Sessions' campaign support, as an act of disloyalty that led to special counsel Robert Mueller's appointment.
Trump has said if he had known Sessions would take that step, he would not have picked the Alabama Republican to be attorney general. The president now asserts that Sessions never has had control of the department, and accuses Sessions of failing to aggressively pursue Trump's political rivals and to investigate potential bias in the Russia investigation.
Trump told Bloomberg News last week that Sessions' job was safe through the November election. The president gave no reassurances about after that. Meanwhile, the solid Republican support in the Senate that has buffered Sessions is showing signs of cracking.
The most recent broadside Monday, about the charges against the two GOP lawmakers, was stunning for its norm-shattering obliteration of the bright line between the White House and Justice Department. Trump said the indictments, coming before an election when control of Congress is at stake, had left "two easy wins now in doubt." He ended the tweet with a sarcastic "Good job Jeff."
"You're harassing the attorney general for not dealing with political bias at the DOJ and then conversely accusing him of not engaging in political bias at the DOJ," said Cameron Smith, a former Sessions counsel in the Senate. "Those cannot both be simultaneously consistent positions."
Sessions didn't respond to that criticism, though in the past he's issued statements saying the department won't bend to political considerations and promising to serve with integrity and honor. His only mentions of Trump are laudatory, and in public appearances, Sessions is far more likely to focus on the work that has impassioned him for decades than on the controversies around him.
The Justice Department declined to comment.
The criticism has created an unusual dynamic where Trump-aligned Republicans who ordinarily would praise Sessions are joining in the condemnation, while progressives opposed to his agenda fear that his firing for political reasons could destabilize democracy.
Vanita Gupta, the Justice Department civil rights chief in the Obama administration, said she believed Sessions was terrible for civil rights but she did not want him dismissed as a means of crippling Mueller's investigation.
"It isn't about protecting Jeff Sessions," Gupta said. "It's about protecting the notion that nobody is above the law in this country and that the Constitution applies to everybody."
It wasn't always this way for Sessions, a federal prosecutor during the 1980s-era "war on drugs."
His conservative Senate positions, including opposing bipartisan legislation that would have created a path to citizenship for millions of immigrants in the country illegally, made him a natural fit for Trump. Sessions was the first senator to endorse Trump, joining the candidate for campaigning and foreign policy meetings. The loyalty paid off with the attorney general post, but it also wound up entangling him in the Russia investigation.
Even as Sessions has pushed the Trump agenda, he's confronted headlines about his campaign interactions with the Russian ambassador and about his attendance at a campaign meeting where the prospect of a Trump-Vladimir Putin meeting was broached.
"It's not as if Trump's background didn't have a lot of red flags in it and Sessions decided, 'Hey, I want to get on board with this person' and it frankly turned out poorly for him as a person," said Smith, the former Sessions aide. "I do think that's a lesson in discretion."
Lyon, Sep 9 (AP/UNB) — Crown Prince Naruhito, Japan's next emperor, has met with Japanese schoolchildren and toured a world-renowned textile museum during a nine-day goodwill visit to France.
The crown prince spent the first full day of his trip in Lyon, a city in southeastern France known as the capital of the Gauls in ancient Roman times.
Naruhito appeared delighted as he walked through the Musee des Tissus, the museum with a 2.5 million-piece collection spanning 4,500 years of textile production.
He arrived Friday and was greeted by Interior Minister Gerard Collomb, who was Lyon's mayor for 16 years. He plans to have a private tour of a Burgundy winery on Sunday.
The crown prince's itinerary eventually brings him to Paris, often the starting point of visiting foreign dignitaries.
Basra, Sep 09 (AP/UNB) — Iraqi security forces deployed on the streets of Basra on Saturday, a day after protesters in the southern city stormed the Iranian consulate and torched government buildings in violence that rocked the oil-exporting Shiite heartland and sparked alarm across a conflict-weary country.
Masked troops in combat fatigues set up checkpoints and rode through the city center in black pickup trucks with heavy weapons mounted in the back. Security forces in Humvees deployed at intersections.
The deployment came after an alliance of powerful Shiite militias, many of them backed by Iran, vowed to respond to the violent protests that have gripped the city for the past week, raising the threat of further violence.
At least 15 people were killed and 249 injured in clashes between protesters and security forces this week, health officials say.
Since June, Basra has been shaken by the most serious protests in the oil-rich southern region in years, with angry residents complaining of poor public services. In recent days, protests escalated, as crowds turned their rage on neighboring Iran, blaming its outsized influence in Iraq's political affairs for their misery and calling for radical change. Iran controls powerful Shiite militias in Basra, home to some of the largest oil fields in Iraq.
Raad Abdelhamid, a Basra firefighter, said he fears for Iraq.
"The militias are responsible for this corruption," he said as he stood outside the still-smoldering provincial government building on Saturday, his second day of working to put out a fire there.
"I fear Basra is headed for more blood," he said, in tears.
A banner on one side of the building read in Arabic: "No to the militias, your militias under our feet."
Despite the oil wealth, the city has long suffered from government neglect, soaring unemployment and a crumbling infrastructure. Over the past month, thousands of people were hospitalized after drinking polluted water.
Angry protesters have torched government buildings and offices belonging to the Iranian-backed militias in the weeklong protests demanding improved services and an end to corruption. On Friday night, protesters chanting anti-Iranian slogans including "Iran, out, out!" stormed the Iranian consulate and set it on fire.
They also burned an Iranian flag and trampled on a portrait of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Bahram Ghasemi, condemned the attack on the consulate, which he said caused significant damage to the building. He called for maximum punishment for the assailants. The ministry also summoned the Iraqi ambassador to relay Tehran's "strong protest."
On Saturday, an Iraqi flag was placed at the entrance to the consulate after the Iranian one was torn down and set ablaze. Sprayed in red on the concrete wall of the consulate were the words: "Down with Iran, down with the militias, the revolution will continue."
The U.S. State Department criticized the attack, without explicitly mentioning Iran. "The United States condemns violence against diplomats, including that which occurred today in Basra," it said in a statement Friday.
The consulate, which handles visas for four southern governorates and issued between five to eight thousand tourism and medical visas a day through a travel agency located next to the embassy, stopped issuing visas.
The government-sanctioned Shiite militias known as the Popular Mobilization Forces — Hashed in Arabic — threatened retaliation Saturday, raising the specter of further escalation.
"We will have a response to those who are carrying out acts of arson and sabotage," the militias' commander, known as Abu Yasser al-Jaafari, told reporters in Basra.
Al-Jaafari said the lack of response thus far should not be taken as a sign of weakness. He spoke at the city's presidential palaces compound, where Shiite paramilitary troops are stationed.
On Thursday night, protesters had marched to the compound and tried to breach it. At least three cars driven by the troops ploughed into the protesters, killing one and wounding four others, according to a health official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to media.
Several burned cars were seen in the compound.
On Saturday morning, assailants fired three Katyusha rockets at Iraq's Basra airport, which houses the U.S. consulate, adding to the tensions. An airport official said the attack did not cause casualties or disrupt flights in or out of the city. He spoke on condition of anonymity, citing security concerns.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
Security officials said they reopened partially the vital Umm Qasr port on the Persian Gulf on Saturday, after shutting down operations for several days amid concerns that protesters might try to storm it.
An Iraqi military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool, said the military commander for Basra operations, Jamil al-Shumari, was replaced.
Young men in Basra said Saturday that they would continue protesting.
"We have no work, no money. Something needs to change," said 18-year-old Mustafa Diaa, a jobless construction worker who said he has been taking part in the protests every day.
Diaa took part in torching the provincial government building two days earlier and returned to the scene on Saturday. He said he does not regret it and would do so again until something gives.
"They should change the government, provide job opportunities and fix the water. I'm not scared," he said.
Basra, once known as the "Venice of the East" because of its freshwater canals, has been hit by an acute water crisis, including rising pollution and salt water levels. The city, where temperatures often approach 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) during the summer, has also been crippled by electricity shortages.
Two hospital officials told The Associated Press that around 35,000 residents have been treated at hospitals as a result of water pollution in the past month. The water is so contaminated it cannot even be used for cooking or washing.
The protests began in June, tapered off, then restarted Monday after a surge in water poisoning cases.
Iraq's government has scrambled to meet the growing demand for public services and jobs, but has been hindered by years of endemic corruption and a financial crisis fueled by diminished oil revenues and the costly war against the Islamic State group.
Basra's streets are filled with pictures of young men from Shiite militias who were killed fighting against the Islamic State group in the past few years — a war that allowed the militias space to flourish and gain strength.
Many residents of the predominantly Shiite city now accuse Iranian-backed political parties of interfering in Iraqi politics. They blame the Shiite militias in their city for mismanagement and profiteering at their expense.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has ordered an investigation into the violence.
Iraq's parliament held an emergency session Saturday to discuss the unrest in Basra which comes amid a political crisis in Baghdad, adding to overall tensions in the country.
The newly elected parliament earlier this week held its first session since the national elections in May, but the session was adjourned amid disagreements as two blocs, both claiming to hold the most seats, vied for the right to form a new government.
Paris, Sep 09 (AP/UNB) — Thousands of people have joined a march and rally held in Paris as part of an international mobilization to show popular support for urgent measures to combat climate change.
Crowds overflowed a plaza in front of City Hall before marching east to the Place de la Republique on Saturday. They carried with them an urgent message that it's up to the public to put global warming at the top of the political agenda.
The front-page of France's daily Liberation newspaper featured a call from 700 French scientists for politicians to take action because "solutions are available."
Activists encouraged "Rise for Climate" protests around the world before a climate summit opens next week in San Francisco. California's governor proposed the event after President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement.
Cairo, Sep 08 (AP/UNB) — An Egyptian court on Saturday sentenced 75 people to death, including top leaders of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, for their involvement in a 2013 sit-in protest by Islamists that was broken up by security forces in an operation that left hundreds dead.
In a case involving 739 defendants facing charges ranging from murder to damaging property, the court also sentenced to life in prison the head of the Brotherhood, Mohammed Badie, and 46 others.
Mahmoud Abu Zaid, a photojournalist known as "Shawkan" whose detention has been decried by rights groups at home and abroad, received five years in prison. He was detained in August 2013, meaning that he should walk free within days for time served.
Several mass trials of Islamists that yielded dozens of death sentences have been held in Egypt since 2013, when the military, then led by President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, removed an Islamist president who hails from the Brotherhood, which has since been outlawed and designated a terror group.
The trials and death sentences have consistently drawn scathing criticism from rights groups at home and abroad, which have branded the process as a mockery of justice.
On Saturday, Amnesty International condemned the sentences of the latest mass trial, which it described as "disgraceful."
"The Egyptian authorities should be ashamed. We demand a retrial in an impartial court and in full respect of the right to a fair trial for all defendants, without recourse to the death penalty,' said senior Amnesty official Najia Bounaim. The London-based rights group also noted that not a single member of the security forces faced legal proceedings over what it called the massacre that took place when police broke up the sit-in on Aug. 14, 2013.
The sit-in at a square in a Cairo suburb was staged by supporters of Islamist president Mohammed Morsi of the Brotherhood. He became Egypt's first freely elected president in 2012 but was ousted in July 2013 by the military following days of street protests calling on him to step down.
It is widely believed that breaking up the sit-in along with another one across Cairo, also staged by Islamists, left an estimated 900 people dead.
One of Morsi's sons, Osama, was among 22 defendants who received 10-year jail terms on Saturday, while 374 were sentenced to 15 years and 215 to five years.
Proceedings were dropped against five defendants who have died since the trial began.
Saturday's convictions, which can be appealed, are the latest chapter in a crackdown waged by authorities against government critics the scale of which has not been seen in living memory in Egypt.
Since Morsi's ouster, authorities have jailed thousands of Islamists along with some of the secular, pro-democracy activists behind a 2011 popular uprising that forced autocrat Hosni Mubarak to step down after 29 years in power. The crackdown has also enforced tighter controls over the media as well as civil society groups, rolling back most of the freedoms won by the 2011 uprising.