Dec 7, 2017, 12:31 PM ET

Less-guarded Sessions spars with interns in internal DOJ video

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This summer, in the midst of President Donald Trump's criticism of the Justice Department and Attorney General Jeff Sessions in particular, Sessions said during a private event that the U.S. legal system must be "based on law and based on facts" and "can't be politicized."

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But when Justice Department interns attending the event started asking him questions, things got spirited — and an internal Justice Department video of the session, obtained by ABC News, offers a rare glimpse of what appears to be a less guarded Sessions.

At one point, he seemed to mock a Justice Department intern for questioning whether marijuana is dangerous. He said cities like Chicago and Baltimore are now plagued with rising crime and murders because they "have abandoned traditional police activities." And he dismissed another intern's assertion that many Americans in poor, largely minority communities fear law enforcement officers.

"I grew up in one of these communities," said the intern, who said he attends the University of California at Berkeley. "I grew up in a project to a single mother. And the people who we are afraid of are not necessarily our neighbors but the police."

An apparently exasperated Sessions replied, "Well, that may be the view in Berkeley, but it's not the view" elsewhere.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions gets into a heated exchange with a law student during an event for Justice Department interns in June. Play
Sessions in testy exchange over excessive force by police

ABC News obtained video of the summer intern lecture series event featuring Sessions through a Freedom of Information Act request. For 25 minutes on June 22, Sessions took pointed questions from college students working at the department during the summer.

In a statement today, a Justice Department spokeswoman said the event allowed students "to have robust conversations — even debates — about the challenges facing our country with the attorney general," adding that the department is "proud to provide hundreds of law students and undergraduates the opportunity to work with some of the finest lawyers in the country."

During the event, one intern asked Sessions why he supports "pretty harsh policies for marijuana and pretty lax gun control laws" when "statistically guns kill significantly more people than marijuana does." In response, Sessions noted that more fatal accidents are now caused by drugs than by alcohol, and he said the American Medical Association "is crystal clear" that "marijuana is not a healthy substance."

But when the intern challenged that assertion, Sessions seemed dismissive, addressing the intern as "Dr. Whatever Your Name Is."

"I don't think America's going to be a better place if marijuana's sold in every corner grocery store," Sessions said.

During an event with Justice Department interns in June, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is pressed on his harsh policies for marijuana but pretty lax gun control views.Play
Sessions pressed on gun control and marijuana

Before Sessions began taking questions, at the Justice Department's Great Hall, he joked, "I think I'm going to run out the back door."

At the time, Trump was beginning an assault on Sessions. The president had publicly chided the Justice Department for endorsing a "watered-down, politically correct version" of his travel ban, and media reports continued to highlight Trump's private condemnations of Sessions for recusing himself from the FBI investigation of Russia's meddling in last year's presidential election.

Coming at a turbulent period for Sessions, the back-and-forth with interns was a unique opportunity for them to question the nation's top cop. Outside of multiple interviews with Fox News since becoming attorney general, Sessions has offered other media outlets few chances to publicly press him about Justice Department policies.

Just last week, during a press conference related to the opioid crisis ravaging communities across the country, Sessions' top spokeswoman blocked a reporter from asking him about his priorities related to civil rights, saying, "We'll take an on-topic question on opioids."

During the question-and-answer session in June, Sessions at times appeared flustered or meandering, but he spent most of it trying to explain his policies, defending his actions as based on the law and the Constitution.

"I was grateful for the opportunity presented by the DOJ to directly speak to the U.S. Attorney General and ask something that I personally know was important to a lot of people," one of the students present, Courtney Hagle, told ABC News in an email.

She and many others asked Sessions about the Justice Department's perceived unwillingness to help protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals.

"We're going to protect the civil rights of everybody," Sessions promised, noting that he "personally directed" the Justice Department's civil rights division to review several murder cases involving transgender individuals.

In February, Sessions backed a Trump administration decision to overturn Obama-era policies that said federal anti-discrimination laws meant students at schools across the country must be allowed to use the bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity.

At the intern event in June, Sessions said the federal government "should let" states and local governments "manage their bathrooms" however they want.

"I think it is very important for members of the LGBT community to know where the attorney general and the DOJ stand on issues of LGBT rights, especially considering recent moves made by the White House, such as moving to ban soldiers who are transgender from serving in our military," Hagle, a senior at Boston University, told ABC News.

Hagle's question from the June session was previously disclosed, thanks to cellphone video from the time. ABC News obtained video of the entire session through the Freedom of Information Act request.

At the event in June, many other questions addressed the opioid epidemic.

During an event with Justice Department interns in June, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is praised for making the opioid crisis a priority under his leadership.Play
Fight against opioid epidemic 'a winnable battle,' Sessions says

In October, the Justice Department arrested John Kapoor, the former head of opioid manufacturer Insys Therapeutics, for his alleged role in a nationwide conspiracy to bribe doctors and others into unnecessarily prescribing the company's fentanyl-based pain medication to patients. He has pleaded not guilty and was released pending trial. Six other former executives were charged and arrested in the same case late last year.

During the June event, Sessions wasn't the only one taking heated questions. After one intern lamented that "the Department of Justice will lose roughly 20 percent of its funding" if his pending budget request is approved, he demanded, "Where'd you get that 20 percent?"

At first, the intern said she "read that" in a major U.S. newspaper, only to say later, "I'm not quite sure, sir."

The department's budget request called for a 3.8 percent reduction in funding, and the Justice Department is just "going do more with less," Sessions said.

Here is the full video of the question-and-answer session:

For more than 25 minutes in June, Attorney General Jeff Sessions took sometimes tough questions from interns. ABC News obtained video of the event through a Freedom of Information Act request.Play
Sessions takes tough questions from Justice Department interns

News - Less-guarded Sessions spars with interns in internal DOJ video

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  • xanxibar

    Sessions wants to put every black person in America in prison. He's that racist.

  • xanxibar

    Sessions is a vile racist who deserves to rot in prison for his role in Russian collusion.

  • NobodysaysBOO

    I swear SESSIONS must be a JEW playing around with DUMB black guys!!!

    ABC soft on news and jews.

  • I want the Truth

    Where is all Jeff Sessions " I do not remember" statements Sessions said that over a 100 times to congress recently.

  • Tammy

    10-20% of Chicago arrests are for simple possession.

    Want more cops going after real crimes? Legalize. Then, Chicago does not even need to hire more cops because suddenly 20% have nothing to do except go after real crimes.

    Next, OTHER crimes drop because there are more cops going after those criminals.

    It's kind of like Moore's law of computer power: the more powerful, the quicker it doubles.

    Sure, at one point, we reach critical mass in reducing crime. But I simply cannot understand why law enforcement ITSELF is against legalization of cannabis. Moreover, cops would be more safe due to dropping crime rates overall. I am baffled.

  • Tammy

    50-80% of gang income comes from illegal cannabis.

    Legalized, and gangs would lose up to 80% of their funding source.

    The argument that gangs would switch to other crimes is just false.

    NO ONE can lose 80% of his/her income and then jump to another job to make up for the loss.

    But the bottom line is:
    Incarcerate? REALLY? Just how on earth does one go from "I don't like cannabis" to "Therefore, incarcerate."?

  • Robin Shuman

    Sessions has said that judges should not have empathy. Not my AG.

  • Robert Adams

    Sessions is out of his league - sort of like a high school quarterback facing off against Eli Manning.

  • Cretins Bezoar

    If gun rights are protected by the 2nd amendment isn't there an amendment to preserve the right of every individual to ingest into their bodies any compounds/chemicals they so desire without interference from government.

  • Internet Chick

    He is so out of touch.

  • JDC

    Reminds me of the same video from when Eric Holder had to do this after the Fast and Furious issue.

  • Trent Cavanaugh

    Michael Brown??? Still pushing that lie??? He was a great guy, attacked a cop, assaulted a store owner after robbing him and was arrested multiple times for assault. Look st the stats and the facts ppl, blacks are NOT targeted by cops more than whites!!!!!!! Black people need to stop killing each other, why that hasn’t been discussed more is incredible to me, three percent of the US population (Black men) are responsible for nearly 60 percent of violent crime in this country. Why is that? Address that problem FIRST!!!
    Let us look INWARD for a soluttion to the violence that plagues our people. Pointing fingers isn’t helping us.

  • Magik13

    Keebler elf Sessions ...don't you have some work to do for Santa to prepare for Christmas....buzz off

  • Magik13

    Jeff sessions is a stupid ignoramus and bigot. The girl owned him when she asked about his lax gun policies ...even after 50 mass murders with guns! Mass murder epidemic and Americans getting gunned down everywhere and Session's biggest concern is cannabis? What a dope...or maybe Sessions is on dope. This guy isn't right...there is an emptiness and deadness in his eyes like there is no soul present.

  • Emmanuel Moyana

    And that man is supposed to be the attorney general ?

  • SpringForward

    If you think the Mercers' and Kochs' care about you, you would be very wrong. They want to destroy the US. They are the evils of capitalism personified.

  • bull123

    I am a died in the wool republican & trump supporter but this guy sessions is a tool

  • Edup McD

    "Dr. Whatever your name is" ...
    Say what!!!
    Professional is not part of the Trump administration ...
    I only wish I could buy quality cannibis derived CBD oil at every corner grocery store to relieve my kid's pain from MS to allow her to walk ...
    As well as at a low cost instead of $160 +tax for .50 oz ...
    A hole doesn't know what he's talking about or how to speak or educste interns effectively ...
    Alfred E. Neuman look alike Sessions is another waste of tax dollars ...

  • SpringForward

    Sessions is a very real product of a very real corrupt administration. This guy is supposed to be our top law officer. He's supposed to be the guy who keeps things in check, yet he had to recuse himself from all of the Russia stuff, because he was involved. But, having a small amount of marijuana should be ground for years of imprisonment. This is just one small thing of many that should make every sane American very concerned. They are plotting very dangerous things and getting away with a lot already. Vote in 2018! VOTE!

  • bibleexpert

    "I don't think America's going to be a better place if marijuana's sold in every corner grocery store," Sessions said.

    Then he added, "It's a much better place when marijuana continues to be sold on every street corner instead of in stores."

  • kritikosman

    Sessions needs to go back to a more suitable job--the Keebler mascot.

  • yetanother1

    What does it take America.? Just what does it take for the American people to finally get up off our backsides and vote all the incumbents out of office? At this point in time and with the Maniac in chief causing as much chaos as possible with all of the support from his side of the aisle, I don't know that any of them are immune from corruption. It is clear that none of them are really working as they ALL should to make life better for us... keeping it cushy for themselves though.

  • David Dove

    Sorry, but no respect for sessions here. Evidentially, what works for Alabama doesn't fly with the rest of the country.

  • M Fischer

    More inbred Trump Nazis who are uneducated

  • bil

    Elmer Fudd strikes again

  • Tom

    Are there any people from Alabama who live in the 21st Century? there must be. They can't all be like this.

  • realitycheck

    This is why older politicians out of touch with both younger and modern America should no be
    in charge of anything, to make it worse we are dealing with a conservative old bird from a red states totally clueless about the richer and dynamic culture of blue states.
    The worse thing that could ever happen to America was the election of Trump and his cronies, we are going to pay for this gigantic mistake for years to come.

  • Brooks Payne

    Alabama politics gives us people like Sessions and the evangelical-approved Roy Moore.
    Hang your heads, Alabama voters.

  • Andy Byrd

    I really HATE donald chump an redneck jeff sessions MESSING up America & dividing us everyday with they good ole boy BS...

  • DevilAnse

    So much for his oath of office and the concept of public service .

    "I shall smite my enemies , Dr Whatever your name is !"

    Sigh. Who dealt this mess , and how do we get back to government of the People and for the People ?

  • Former Earthling

    America will be a much better place once we remove the traitors from the WH and Justice dept.

  • Jim Enright

    Does Sessions have a law degree?

  • George Columbo

    Sessions is a dork. It is common knowledge that marijuana should be made legal.

  • dancer92136

    Ignorance is bliss. He believes himself.