I was joined by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions this morning:
HH: So pleased to welcome back to the program United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions. General Sessions, welcome, thank you for joining me.
JS: Thank you. Good to be with you again.
HH: I had invited you early this week to talk about, and we will spend most of our time talking about opioids, but obviously the massacre at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High has your attention. Yesterday, you declared we must confront this problem, and I know each and every one of you in this room feel that way. What do you intend to do, Mr. Attorney General?
JS: There are a number of things we are going to do. We have already at the direction of the President commenced a campaign to crack down on criminals with guns. Our prosecutions are up 23% already this year, the highest, I think, in ten years. But there’s more that we can do there. We also know, Hugh, that we need to do a better job of receiving warning signs and acting on them. And our team, as we wrestled with this yesterday, we think that somehow, some way, school systems have got to be emboldened to confront people, kids that they think are dangerous. Parents need to be encouraged, and when police and law enforcement get information, they need to act better. There’s an intersection between violence and mental health that we’ve not effectively dealt with. We talked to professional law enforcement officers like the sheriffs I met with yesterday. That’s one of the things they believe strongly.
HH: You know, General Sessions, I’ve been talking about this a lot. People want to call in about troubled kids, but if you’re a district superintendent or a principal, you’re looking at a lawsuit if you do that. I think we need to authorize and immunize these people, and that we need a no buy list like we have a no fly list, and maybe a rebuttable presumption. These are legal terms, but if a principal or a school district superintendent says this kid cannot buy a weapon, I think he ought to go on a no buy list. What do you think of that?
JS: Hugh, you’re touching on something. People are afraid they’ll get sued. They don’t know what their rights are. They’ve been told that unless somebody’s been declared officially by a judge to be incompetent or mentally ill, they’re not able to do anything but treat them like anybody else. And, but school principals sit as, in some ways, parents. They have a right to protect their children. And we need to make sure, as you suggest, that they feel empowered to do so without being sued or held to account themselves.
HH: We’ll follow that up. I want to move to opioids. Very quickly, one last question, I think we need Congressional hearings not just on guns and AR-15s, but I think we need them on the variety of things that are corroding the American soul, and that goes to internet extremism, it goes to the New York Times Sunday Magazine front page story on teenagers and porn, it goes to opioids. Do you agree that Congressional hearings of the Kefauver sort would help us, Mr. Attorney General?
JS: You have too much direction of my former colleagues, but a national discussion on this would be healthy. You’re exactly right. Corroding, we’re seeing, and it seems to me, a continual erosion, a corrosion of stability in America where people feel safe, where children are raised in nurturing environments and are taught principles and children are not able to handle that. And if they have a mental illness, we need to do a better job of identifying it early.
HH: Now let’s talk specifically about opioids. I have been running a series on the American carnage, opioids in America, thanks to our not for profit free market alternative to NPR called APR. And we have been doing this in-depth. 64,000 Americans died from opioids last year, most of those because of fentanyl and heroin, most of that coming from abroad, Mexico and China. I know you’re doing a bunch of stuff, but what exactly, what should the audience know, because 64,000 people is actually 20, 30% more than the highest number of deaths at the height of the AIDS epidemic. 42,000 people died at the height of the AIDS epidemic, and yet we lost 64,000 people to opioids last year.
JS: First, let me thank you for sounding that alarm. I’ve been in law enforcement off and on for 40 years, maybe, and I’ve seen a lot of problems on drugs. But nothing comes close to the deaths we’re seeing today. Nothing comes close to the vicious addictive, of the addiction power that’s killing and destroying families and young people and adults. These opioids are just powerful addictions. And they’re not easily, you don’t go in for a week and get cured. You just do not. People go in multiple times. So you’re right, it is a national crisis costing us hundreds of billions of dollars. What are we doing? Well, first of all, a large part of the addiction, we believe, starts with normal prescription painkillers, opioids. We’re calling for physicians to be more cautious, and we are prosecuting astounding numbers of physicians who have just been making money writing prescriptions.
HH: Pill mills.
JS: It’s horrible.
HH: Pill mills, yeah.
JS: Pill mills. And when I travel, I’ve been to 30, 40 United States Attorney offices all over America, and they all have cases on physicians, some on pharmacies, some hospitals have poor control measures, and pills are out there. They get addicted, and then they move to heroin and fentanyl and die. It is a, we’re working, we’re going to bring down, our goal is flat out to bring down the number of deaths. This year, we expect a reduction in deaths instead of these huge increases we’ve seen the last several years.
HH: Oh, my gosh, and so people understand, we’ve gone from 3,000 deaths three years ago to 20,000 on fentanyl alone, just fentanyl. That’s a 540% increase in three years from fentanyl, and that’s not what we’re talking about with pill mills. Fentanyl is from abroad, right?
JS: Right. It’s a synthetic heroin, a synthetic opioid originally, most of it comes from China, as you mentioned. A lot of it is going through Mexico. But it’s such a compact substance, and one packet of artificial sugar will result in thousands of deaths, thousands of deaths.
HH: You know, and we, in one of my stories, we interviewed the mom of a kid, you know, a bright American shining star teenager, and Lisa Manning said this about her son. Can you play that?
LM: We were perfect people to say it wasn’t going to happen to our kids. It’s not going to happen to my child. You know, look. He was popular. He was an athlete. He was good looking. He had lots of friends. He was homeschooled. He grew up in the church. He was a person that told me at the age of 6 he wanted to be a minister. How could that happen to my kid?
HH: So Mr. Attorney General, are you seeing this all over, that fentanyl is claiming people who you would ordinarily not profile as either vulnerable to or obviously addicted to an illegal substance flowing abroad.
JS: Absolutely. We had a situation in Utah where a teenager, and you can order this off these alpha, these websites, these dark net websites. Young people can, so one did, a teenager did that in Utah, gave some to a 13 year old, and he was gone. They didn’t know what they were taking or how much it was. I stood in New Hampshire with 50 mothers holding large pictures in their hands of their sons who died, their children, who died from overdose deaths. And there were, I think, 8,000 high school students in that arena. What an impressive thing that was. This is a disaster for our country. We can do better. We are meeting with China. I’ve met with China. The President’s raised it with China. My deputy, Rod Rosenstein, has gone to China and met with them. We think we’re going to get improvement from them, and we’ve changed the rules here to make it easier to deal with the chemical alternation of fentanyl. You can alter it a little bit, and it may not be a violation of the law. The DEA has figured out how to rewrite the regulation so you can’t escape prosecution in that way. And we think overall, though, Hugh, that people, let me just tell you my personal view. The most important thing for America is young people and adults don’t get started. The President used that word in one of our meetings with a group of people. He said you know, just don’t start. If you don’t start, you can avoid this addiction. And doctors who prescribe pain pills that are needed need to be careful. Patients who are taking them need to be careful. And if they start feeling any kind of addiction, these are warning signs that they should resist. One reporter told me his wife sensed from after surgery that she was getting dependent on them, and she personally decided just to stop taking them. So these are dangerous drugs. They should not be played with.
HH: Let me return to enforcement for a second, because I’m not sure if it was federal or state officials, but 100 pounds of fentanyl was seized in New Jersey. That’s actually enough to kill the entire Garden State. It is so potent, and a lot of the Chinese imports come disguised as other things like Xanax. And a teenager will take a Xanax, and we did a story about a teenager who took a Xanax, shouldn’t have been taking a Xanax, but a Xanax will put you to sleep. It’s not supposed to get you high. And he’s dead. And so this is an enforcement issue. Have you got the resources? Did the budget give you what you need for the Bureau and the DEA and the border, and indeed the Post Service, because this dark web thing is the most malignant and rapidly spreading blanket of terror on America, they don’t even know about it, General Sessions?
JS: You are so right. I’ve been to our Fed Ex sites. I’ve been to the mail center in New York. It handles over half of the mail, international mail. We’re working for better connections there. The FBI has busted and eliminated Alpha Bay. Alpha Bay was a dark website selling illegal guns and substances, 220 illegal outlets there, some 13,000, as I recall, were fentanyl outlets that anybody could hook onto that site, have it sent to them in the mail.
HH: Now you see, I think…
JS: …You can now send the mail for a multiyear supply…
HH: I think our audience is going to be stunned to hear such a thing happen, Alpha Bay. And so how does that escape, how does that get set up? Where is that run from? And how does it avoid immediate detection and suppression?
JS: It’s, you know, it’s out in the ether, almost. We caught this guy in Thailand. He was the real architect of it. He committed suicide. But the FBI, to their credit, has increased significantly their team of experts, and they have some of the best, to identify earlier so sites don’t get as large as this one, which was the largest that’s ever been, 220,000. So an individual seller can get a site on this Alpha Bay, a person locks onto it and then can order from any one of the sellers.
HH: That is just incredible.
JS: …illegal substances, and it can be sent through the mail, as you indicate, and it is a major problem for us today.
HH: Now Mr. Attorney General, let me finish up by talking about the idea of what’s going on in America being partly fentanyl. You mentioned the dark web sells guns as well. It sells sex, it sells fentanyl, it sells heroin. It is making the whole world vulnerable to the worst instincts. The New York Times Sunday Magazine this weekend has a cover story, do you think porn influences the way teenagers think about sex. You and I, and it’s pretty eye-opening, and it’s going to scare a lot of parents of what’s available to their children. You and I both know what internet extremism is doing to the manufacture of hate-filled extremists, and we see what happens when deranged people get ahold of an AR-15 in Florida. What, I know you’re reluctant to give your former colleagues advice, but we just went on the air down in Tuscaloosa, just added an affiliate in Tuscaloosa. If you were in a town hall meeting in Tuscaloosa, what would you tell them the federal government can do about what is a combination of meteor strikes on the culture?
JS: I think the federal government, and state and local government, even counties and cities, can indeed begin to discuss these things more openly. It’s almost got to the point where you know, if you criticize pornography, or point it out on some of the dangers and just disruptions to families that have proven to be a result, then somehow, you’re a nut case, or you can’t criticize a lot of the things that need to be discussed openly as not being healthy. We need to analyze how big the drug problem is, how many families and careers and educations are being lost as a result of it, not just how many die. We need to talk about human culture and the health of actually individual Americans what, if some of these things are eroding the health of America, it ought to be discussed, because in a democracy, particularly, you cannot be stronger than the health and viability and strength of individual citizens.
HH: A lot of people don’t remember the Kefauver hearings. But I, they really focused on organized crime, and they woke America up to what was happening. Last question, Mr. General, Mr. Attorney General, I think we need a set of Kefauver hearings. I think it should be joint Senate and House on all of these things, not captured by one particular group or the other, but just generally to educate the country. And I think the audience would be enormous for them. What do you think?
JS: Look, I don’t know what the audience would be. I think there would be a sizeable audience. But I’ll tell you one thing. It’s time for this country to take more seriously our culture and the health of our society. And there are a lot of things out there that are, can be available to an unhealthy young person, for example, that could drive them over the edge that most people don’t even know exists. So there are a lot of things that need to be discussed. You’re right. And more highly sophisticated understanding of how children or even adults tip from stable to unstable, and to violent, probably needs to be a part of this, too.
HH: Mr. Attorney General, thank you for your efforts, and I appreciate your time this morning. I look forward to having you back, and good luck in the continuing offensive launched against opioids, fentanyl, heroin, all of it. I appreciate you taking the time this morning.
JS: It’s our number one goal, one of my very top goals, and we’re going to make some progress.
HH: Good luck to you. Thank you, Mr. General, Attorney General.
JS: Thank you.
End of interview.