In preparation for hearings on his nomination to be attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions submitted a response to a Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire that should have covered all the public events he’s done and public statements he’s made in his career in politics. He left a whole lot out, including a number of items that reinforced his close relationship with Breitbart, the far-right news outlet that provides a well-known platform for hate.
Breitbart was until recently run by Stephen Bannon, who is now set to be President-elect Donald Trump’s top strategist in the White House. Under Bannon’s leadership, Breitbart became what he himself called the “platform for the Alt-Right,” an internet-based band of white nationalists, anti-Semites and misogynists. It’s easy to see what appealed to the racist Alt-Right about Bannon’s website, which regularly ran stories with headlines like “Birth control makes women unattractive and crazy,” “Bill Kristol: Republican spoiler, renegade Jew” and “Hoist it high and proud: The Confederate flag proclaims a glorious heritage.”
In his questionnaire for the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sessions listed nine radio and four print interviews he had given to Breitbart since 2013. We found nine additional radio interviews and three additional print interviews that were not included in the senator’s questionnaire, along with a handful of op-eds written by Sessions for the site and a number of instances of Sessions’ office providing Breitbart with exclusive first access to a statement, data or other documents.
A review of these interactions, which include at least 14 radio interviews with Bannon—10 in the year before Bannon left to join Trump’s campaign—show a cozy relationship between the senator and the far-right news agency, and in particular Bannon. (Two of the interviews we have counted were announced in advance on Breitbart’s website, but we have been unable to find audio or transcripts of them.)
In an interview in February of this year, Bannon called Sessions “one of the intellectual, moral leaders of this populist, nationalist movement in this country”; two days later, on the day Sessions endorsed Trump, Bannon told Sessions he was “the leader of this populist revolt against the political elite and standing up for the American people, particularly when it comes to broken borders, unlimited immigration, illegal immigration, and these trade deals that have really gutted the American working man and woman.”
In a November 2015 interview, Bannon called Sessions “one of the great leaders in this country and one of the great leaders of this movement” and asked him if he was “open to running for president” to elevate the issues of immigration and trade. When Sessions demurred, Bannon said he hadn’t “given up yet.” Earlier that month, Bannon invited Sessions for an interview on his very first weekday Breitbart broadcast. Telling Sessions that he was “really honored and beloved” by the Breitbart audience, Bannon said “we didn’t feel it was right to have our initial show” without the Alabama senator.
Many of Breitbart’s print stories describe Sessions in similarly gushing terms. One 2016 story by Neil W. McCabe refers to Sessions as “the courtly senator”; in a February 2016 interview, Bannon compared the “courtly southern gentleman” Sessions to Trump with his “New York edge.”
Sessions has returned the praise. In February 2015, on the day that Sessions was set to address a Breitbart-sponsored event at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Sessions told Bannon on his radio program, “Let me just stop a minute and say Breitbart has been the absolute bright spot in this whole debate. You get it, your writers get it, every day they find new information that I use repeatedly in debate on the floor of the Senate because it’s highlighting the kind of problems that we have. And nobody else is doing it effectively, it’s just not happening, so to me it’s like a source. And we consistently find your data to be accurate and hold up under scrutiny.”
Bannon responded by calling Sessions’ communications staff “one of the best on Capitol Hill.” At the time, Sessions’ communications director was Stephen Miller, who later left to work on the Trump campaign and is set to be a senior policy adviser in Trump’s White House.
In a profile of Miller for Politico in June, journalist Julia Ioffe outlined the close relationship between Miller’s communications office and Breitbart:
Breitbart is Miller’s preferred media ally. “Every movement needs a dialogue,” Miller says. “Breitbart was a big part of that.” Miller worked tirelessly to make sure the dialogue kept going, and in the right direction. “When I first joined the staff, the first email I got was from him,” says one former Breitbart reporter. “It said something like, ‘Congratulations from everyone at Sessions’ office, we look forward to working with you.’” From that day on, the day’s first email would come from Miller, highlighting inaccuracies in other media outlets’ work or suggesting avenues for investigation. He worked primarily with two reporters at Breitbart, Caroline May and Julia Hahn, constantly feeding them scoops about the Disney workers’ plight, immigration numbers and welfare fraud. He used to organize a weekly Friday happy hour for Sessions and Breitbart staffers at Union Pub, across the street from the Heritage Foundation. “They’re all really good friends,” says the former Breitbart reporter.
Breitbart was also Sessions country long before it was Trump country. “Anything that Sessions sends out, Breitbart writes up immediately,” says the former Breitbart reporter. “There was no question whatsoever. They’d send out an email saying, ‘Anyone who has five minutes, can you write this up?’ I would do it sometimes because people were overloaded and it was just regurgitating a press release into a blog post.” The reporter added, “It was their way of repaying them” for the scoops. Now that Breitbart has also thrown in for Trump, the same happens for his news releases. “They’re all in the same boat together, Sessions, Trump and Breitbart,” the reporter said. “There’s no other politician that Breitbart does that for. They go above and beyond.”
Bannon told Ioffe, “You could not get where we are today with this movement if it didn’t have a center of gravity that was intellectually coherent. And I think a ton of that was done by Senator Sessions’ staff, and Stephen Miller was at the cutting edge of that.”
Sessions’ interviews with Bannon show a mutual admiration based on their joint leadership in what Miller called “this movement for nation-state populism.”
In a December 2015 interview with Bannon that we reported on at the time, Sessions defended Trump’s proposal for a ban on all Muslims from entering the United States. Bannon started the interview by telling his listeners that the “political class and the media” “mock” them for their views on immigration.
In an interview with Bannon in October 2015, Sessions lamented current levels of legal immigration, pointing favorably to a 1924 effort that set strict quotas on immigrants based on their nation of origin, which heavily favored immigrants from largely white countries, and disparaging the 1965 immigration measure that undid that quota system:
In fact, when the numbers reached about this high in 1924, the president and Congress changed the policy, and it slowed down immigration significantly. We then assimilated, through 1965, and created really a solid middle class of America with assimilated immigrants, and it was good for America. And then we passed this law that went far beyond what anybody realized in 1965, and we’re on a path to surge far past what the situation was in 1924.
When Bannon asked Sessions to respond to critics who call him a “nativist,” Sessions said, “I love America.” He added that some people” in Congress “think they represent groups, they seem to think we represent the whole world, and they think we represent business groups and activist groups and [National Council of] La Raza and the Chamber of Commerce, and we’re losing sight of who we represent.”
The two then moved on to discuss what Bannon called the “Muslim invasion of Europe” and the “almost a Camp of the Saints type of invasion” by Middle Eastern refugees into Europe, a reference to a racist, anti-immigrant novel popular among white supremacists.
In a November 2015 discussion with Bannon, Sessions once again pointed to the immigration restrictions that were in place between 1924 and 1965, prompting Bannon to ask him how “this kind of populist, nationalist, conservative Right” listening to his show could assist him in pushing his immigration priorities.
Frequently, Bannon enlisted Sessions in setting up their “populist, nationalist” movement against vaguely defined “elites.” In an interview in June about Islamic radicalism and the refugee crisis, Bannon asked Sessions if he believed “the elites in this country have the belief in the underlying principles of the Judeo-Christian West, to actually win this war.”
“I’m worried about that,” Sessions responded. “As a matter of fact, I’m losing great confidence that our elites, as you described them, do not operate sufficiently in the real world, and it’s a dangerous thing. And they’re eroding regularly, it seems to me, classical American values that are so critical to our success. So it’s a big problem.”
Thirty years ago, the Senate Judiciary Committee rejected Sessions’ nomination to a federal judgeship after witnesses came forward to allege that he had made a series of racist remarks and because of his hostility to civil rights as a federal prosecutor. Decades later, he is catering to white nationalism rebranded as the “Alt-Right” and given a platform in Breitbart News.