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Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions praises Trump in announcing run for his old US Senate seat

From his work as an Alabama attorney to his time as President Trump's attorney general, Jeff Sessions has had a long career filled with controversy.

Posted: Nov 8, 2019 7:40 AM
Updated: Nov 8, 2019 7:40 AM

Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a campaign for his old Alabama Senate seat on Thursday, betting that President Donald Trump will not be able to break the bond that Sessions built with the state's voters over two decades.

The announcement came a year after Trump fired Sessions from his dream job, and their relationship will now be a determining factor in the race.

Sessions addressed it head-on in a video launching his campaign, saying Trump has "my strong support." He then expressed his loyalty to the President by noting that he did not attack Trump despite his former boss' withering, public criticism.

"When I left President Trump's Cabinet, did I write a tell-all book," asked Sessions. "No. Did I go on CNN and attack the President? Nope. Have I said a cross word about our President? Not one time."

Sessions said that would've been "dishonorable," adding he "was there to serve his agenda, not mine."

While Sessions has been beloved in Alabama — his last Senate campaign in 2014 was unopposed — Trump commands higher approval ratings there than just about any other state. And the President spent months criticizing his first attorney general, personal attacks that could very well sway the party's primary on March 3.

But Sessions did not leave on good terms. Trump never forgave the Alabamian's decision to recused himself from the Justice Department's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, citing his role on behalf of the Trump campaign.

Sessions' argument did not sway the President, who repeatedly criticized him for the probe, which former special counsel Robert Mueller took over after Trump fired FBI director James Comey. The President's condemnation rose to the point that for months Sessions carried a resignation letter with him in his pocket when he went to the White House, according to the Mueller report.

In November 2018, Trump fired Sessions and wished him well. But the attacks continued. A month after the firing, he tweeted, "Jeff Sessions should be ashamed of himself for allowing this total HOAX to get started in the first place!"

Other Republican candidates are already pitching themselves as better stewards of Trump's political brand. Former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville, US Rep. Bradley Byrne, Secretary of State John Merrill, former Chief Justice Roy Moore, State Rep. Arnold Mooney and businessman Stanley Adair are all running for the party's nomination.

Tuberville took a shot at Sessions on Wednesday, calling him a has-been who lost his opportunity to defend Trump.

"As Attorney General, Jeff Sessions had his chance to have President Trump's back and take on the establishment politicians and he failed," he said. "I will bring a new voice for Alabama to the Senate and I will always have President Trump's back."

But other Alabama Republicans said Sessions still holds political power in the state. GOP Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama said that he would "absolutely" endorse Sessions, calling him a "formidable candidate."

"Jeff Sessions is a friend," said Shelby. "I worked with him every day up here for 20 years. He's a man of integrity.

Merrill told CNN that if Sessions got in the race, he'd be the frontrunner due to long experience representing Alabama in the Senate.

"No doubt about it," said Merrill. "He held the seat for 20 years."

The race is Republicans' best opportunity to add to their 53-person majority in the Senate. In 2017, Democrat Doug Jones, a US attorney, beat former Chief Justice Roy Moore, who faced allegations that he sexual assaulted teenage girls in his 30s -- charges Moore vehemently denied. Moore also was twice removed from the bench, for refusing a federal order to remove a Ten Commandment monument from the Alabama Supreme Court building and for ordering judges to not heed the Supreme Court's ruling on same-sex marriage.

While Moore is running again for Senate, many Republican strategists hope the party will nominate another candidate. The Senate Republican campaign arm has taken an-anyone-but-Roy-Moore approach.

"I'm not going to get involved in a primary, other than to say that I certainly don't want to see Roy Moore be the candidate," said Sen. Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, who is close enough to Sessions that she introduced him before his 2017 nomination hearing to lead the Department of Justice.

Sen. John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, said he talked to Sessions in person a couple days ago about his hope his former colleague and the President can repair their relationship.

"I told him I hope he and the President can work out their differences, because I think if not it's going to be a pretty miserable experience," said Cornyn. "I told him what he already knew."

Some top Republican officials are expressing their exasperation at Sessions over his decision to jump into the Alabama Senate race, fearing that internal party dispute could help reelect Jones. The Democrat has over $5 million on hand, the most of any candidate in the Senate race, according to the latest filings. Byrne has over $2.5 million, Sessions has over $2.4 million and Tuberville has over $1.4 million.

At a breakfast meeting on Thursday with about 50 lobbyists and others, officials from the National Republican Senatorial Committee openly voiced their concern about Sessions, according to two people in the room. The frustration was not rooted in dislike for the longtime senator, but rather the uncertainty over Trump's reaction to his former attorney general.

Sessions has not returned calls from the National Republican Senatorial Committee, two officials tell CNN, and is keeping counsel with a tight group of longtime advisers and friends.

"There is no one the President hates more and if he's the nominee and Trump continues to dump on him, Jones could be reelected," one Republican official told the crowd.

Sessions' announcement came one day before Alabama's filing deadline — and two days before Trump heads to Tuscaloosa for the University of Alabama-Louisiana State University football game.

Jones told CNN that he'll go to the game with West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat and childhood friend of Alabama coach Nick Saban.

"It's going to be bedlam," Jones said.

This story has been updated with additional developments Thursday.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 319704

Reported Deaths: 7369
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto22276267
Hinds20677421
Harrison18407317
Rankin13880282
Jackson13689248
Madison10249224
Lee10056176
Jones8464167
Forrest7827153
Lauderdale7260242
Lowndes6509150
Lamar634888
Lafayette6310121
Washington5420137
Bolivar4837133
Panola4669110
Oktibbeha466098
Pearl River4604147
Marshall4573105
Warren4440121
Pontotoc425373
Union415777
Monroe4155135
Neshoba4061179
Lincoln4008112
Hancock386687
Leflore3515125
Tate342486
Sunflower339491
Pike3369111
Alcorn325972
Scott320174
Yazoo314171
Adams307486
Itawamba305178
Copiah299966
Coahoma298784
Simpson298189
Tippah291968
Prentiss283861
Leake271974
Marion271280
Covington267283
Wayne264442
Grenada264087
George252051
Newton248663
Tishomingo231568
Winston229981
Jasper222148
Attala215073
Chickasaw210559
Holmes190374
Clay187854
Stone187833
Tallahatchie180041
Clarke178980
Calhoun174132
Yalobusha167840
Smith164034
Walthall135347
Greene131833
Lawrence131024
Montgomery128643
Noxubee128034
Perry127138
Amite126342
Carroll122330
Webster115032
Jefferson Davis108033
Tunica108027
Claiborne103130
Benton102325
Humphreys97533
Kemper96629
Franklin85023
Quitman82216
Choctaw79118
Wilkinson69532
Jefferson66228
Sharkey50917
Issaquena1696
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 548323

Reported Deaths: 11288
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson809531565
Mobile42066826
Madison35663525
Tuscaloosa26162458
Shelby25595254
Montgomery25081612
Baldwin21839313
Lee16265176
Calhoun14718325
Morgan14626285
Etowah14171363
Marshall12449230
Houston10764288
Elmore10295213
Limestone10182157
St. Clair10160251
Cullman9941201
Lauderdale9596249
DeKalb8967189
Talladega8458184
Walker7335280
Autauga7230113
Blount6944139
Jackson6922113
Colbert6414140
Coffee5627127
Dale4929114
Russell454941
Chilton4472116
Franklin431083
Covington4273122
Tallapoosa4136155
Escambia401780
Chambers3726124
Dallas3607156
Clarke352961
Marion3242106
Pike314078
Lawrence3129100
Winston283572
Bibb268464
Geneva257581
Marengo250665
Pickens236862
Barbour234659
Hale226878
Butler224071
Fayette218162
Henry193843
Cherokee187245
Randolph187044
Monroe179341
Washington170439
Macon162951
Clay160159
Crenshaw155657
Cleburne153244
Lamar146537
Lowndes142054
Wilcox127030
Bullock124242
Conecuh113430
Coosa111429
Perry108626
Sumter105732
Greene93534
Choctaw62025
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