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my way or the highway
October 19, 2018

Attorney General Jeff Sessions wants to do things his way, and he's not going to let a little thing like legal advice get in the way.

Justice Department officials are frustrated with Sessions' effort to push a hardline immigration agenda and policies regarding LGBT rights, The New York Times reported Friday. Sessions quickly took a deeply conservative approach to transforming the DOJ, officials told the Times, and often disregarded advice from staffers who opposed the rapid shift.

The attorney general reportedly sought legal advice from career attorney Stephen Buckingham, asking him to find a way to eliminate sanctuary city laws that protect undocumented immigrants. Buckingham told him there was no legal ground for such a crackdown, but Sessions reminded him that he wanted ultra-strict immigration laws, and asked him to reach a different conclusion, reports the Times. Buckingham resigned soon after the exchange.

Sessions also declined to consult with career experts and lawyers before eliminating protections for transgender people, and his insistence on finding ways to dismantle the Affordable Care Act despite legal guidance sparked significant internal tension.

His circumventing of legal advice is allowed, the Times notes, but a former DOJ official said that, while legal, "it would be inappropriate to ask people to tailor legal judgments to policy preferences." Several of Sessions' policy changes have been challenged or blocked in court. The determination to transform the department despite dissent has caused morale to sink, officials say. The "underlying message" from President Trump and Sessions, said Norman Eisen, a former special counsel for government ethics, "is that department employees are either enemies of the White House or vassals doing its bidding." Summer Meza

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