By TODD STACY, Alabama Daily News
AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions visited Auburn University over the weekend to see how university research is contributing to Department of Justice initiatives like fighting terrorism and combatting the opioid epidemic.
Sessions also took in a little football, watching the Auburn Tigers play the Arkansas Razorbacks with family, friends, and former staff. No day of Auburn football is complete without tailgating, and my family was pleased to host Sessions and Auburn University President Steven Leath at our little corner of the Plains for some game day fare and fellowship in the shadow of towering Jordan Hare Stadium.
“We are so glad you could join us,” my mom, Teresa Stacy told the nation’s top law enforcement officer as he arrived, flanked by a security detail of several federal agents.
“Let me fix you a plate.”
Ours is a low key, family tailgate on a tree-lined patch of grass on the west side of campus. But we are surrounded by much more elaborate and crowded affairs, and it didn’t take long for our neighbors to realize the attorney general and university president were eating barbecue and talking football next door, and so the crowd gradually descended to meet them.
“My husband just loves you,” one orange-and-blue-clad woman told Sessions. “Let me go find him because he’s not going to believe you are here.”
“I am praying for you, Jeff,” another admirer declared. “You might not remember me but we have supported you all these years and I wanted you to know we are praying for you.”
Sessions was in a good mood – jovial, gracious and interested. He was quick to shake hands and patient to let an admirer’s smart phone picture take just right. When someone said they loved and supported him, he said “thank you” and that it meant a lot. When someone said “keep up the good work,” or something similar, he promised that he would.
It must have felt good for Sessions to have supporters swarming him again. Those scenes were common during his service as a U.S. Senator when he was, for a time, without question Alabama’s most popular political figure. But he is a national, if not global figure now, and his work as attorney general has come under attack from many angles.
Late Friday the New York Times reported that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had suggested clandestinely recording President Trump as a way to accelerate his removal from office. Rosenstein and Department of Justice officials strongly refuted the anonymously-leaked accusations, explaining that the comment was made in jest, as in, “whaddya want me to do, wear a wire?”
In any case, it is just another issue in the “bottomless pit” of things to deal with in Washington, Sessions would later tell me.
But, for the moment, Saturday was about football and friends and tailgating. And as the crowd grew, I worried I might not be able to ask a few questions for the record on behalf of Alabama Daily News. Thankfully, I was able to sneak in a few.
Here’s the transcript of our brief interview with photos from his visit.
Todd Stacy: Tell me what you’ve seen during your visit to Auburn and what impressed you most.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions: You know, what we saw just typifies the Auburn core value of it being a “practical world.”
[Note: The Auburn Creed begins, “I believe that this is a practical world…”]
There’s no doubt that this is a the finest Canine Training Center in the world. They are using the genome to breed the finest animals and they’re training and using all kinds of techniques. Then, we visited the pharmacy school because, you know, we have this big problem with opioids. They explained how it really works and, for example, the kinds of improvements in the computer system that would speed up significantly the process for doctors and pharmacists who are trying to validate a prescription. And then we visited with some of the chemists that actually study and analyze the compounds that are making up these analogs, such as Fentanyl, which are synthetic opioids – far more powerful and deadly. And that was interesting just to see that and how many there are and why it’s harder for forensic scientists to analyze precisely the drug when there are so many variations.
JS, continued: So all of those are practical things they are focusing on here at Auburn. The canines are detecting explosives and being trained to identify bombs that might be in a crowd or some sort of government building. But, they also do drugs, of course. So those three things are right on the cutting edge: terrorism attacks, and opioids response and treatment with this huge death rate with have with opioids.
Sarah Flores (DOJ Spokeswoman): By the way, the dog’s name was Todd.
JS: That’s right.
TS: Oh, nice. We’ll make sure to run that in the Daily News.
TS: What are a few items that you’re working on at the Department of Justice that maybe get overshadowed by everything else, the onslaught of national news.
JS: I think the best thing that’s happening is that we are backing the police. We make clear that we know they are the solution, and not the problem. If there are problems with any police department, we’ll do our part to address them.
But we affirm [the police] and I feel a substantially strong morale boost. They feel like the president and his administration are working with them. So we’ve begun to see violent crime go down after two shocking years of increase. It looks like this year will show a decline in homicides after a 20 percent increase in 2015 and 2016.
We’ve reduced the number of opioid prescriptions. They have been abused and overprescribed, and that’s dropping. And the overdose deaths are beginning to top out – we hope. It looks like the overdose deaths from drugs may begin to turn down. I don’t think people are focused on that. We are making America safer and reaffirming our local police and sheriffs in the process.
TS: How is that “everything else”?
JS: We have a lot of excitement in Washington – a lot of contentious issues involving the Department of Justice. It’s just a bottomless pit of things to do. We’re tying to affirm the rule of law and we want people to know that procedures and laws matter and we’ll try to follow them – and do the right thing.
TS: Thanks for your time. How was the deviled egg?
JS: It was fabulous.
TS: He likes your deviled eggs, Mom.
JS: Your momma has raised you and fed you well. I can look at your waistline and see that.