Last year’s famous “Lock her up!” chants echoed ever so slightly in the national memory Tuesday as senators conducted a confirmation hearing on their Alabama colleague Jeff Sessions’ nomination for U.S. attorney general.
Sessions told the Judiciary Committee he’d recuse himself from any investigations or prosecutions involving former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
A close adviser and booster of President-elect Donald Trump, Sessions said certain comments he made during the campaign could call his objectivity into question if he prosecuted Clinton on emails or the family foundation.
This marked one of many civic pieties Sessions saw fit to recite to avoid skidding off a pre-paved road to approval by the GOP-run Senate.
“This country does not punish its political enemies, but this country ensures that no one is above the law,” he said, adding he’d follow a formal recusal process if the time came.
On another occasion, characterizing Clinton as one of the country’s “political enemies” rather than Trump’s might have stirred a storm.
But this wasn’t the day for it, the election was over, and Sessions’ message on the topic was more or less clear.
The nomination did provoke backlash. Demonstrators were continually ejected. These include some with homemade protest signs, and others mocked-dressed in KKK robes and hoods, all condemning Sessions as a racist.
Back in August, “Lock her up!” resounded at Trump rallies nationwide and at the Cleveland GOP convention. Nominee Trump made a big show of promising a special prosecutor if he won. Sessions at the time suggested the FBI hadn’t fully probed foundation ties to the State Department.
“A fundamental violation of law” appeared to have occurred, Sessions said then.
After the election, Trump backtracked, saying it was “just not something I feel very strongly about.”
And at a victory rally in Michigan Dec. 9, he told those chanting the slogan: “That plays great before an election. Now we don’t care, right?”
Some might. But any probe decisions remain to be made from here on in quiet rooms with lawyers present. In them, Sessions presumably would have the chance to show what, if anything, he was talking about when he made his public allegations last summer.
Recusal, if it happens, “would be best for the country because we can never have a political dispute turn into a criminal dispute,” Sessions said.
While it doesn’t sound like the “ins” are interested, they did leave the door open just a bit — maybe so true believers who came to the rallies can keep hope alive.