Recounting his yearlong effort to pass the First Step Act, Jared Kushner in his forthcoming memoir describes the numerous and ultimately unsuccessful efforts by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to thwart the landmark criminal justice reform legislation.
In his upcoming book, “Breaking History: A White House Memoir,” Kushner details several efforts by Sessions to stymie his efforts to amass an unlikely coalition of conservative and liberal lawmakers – and to dissuade then-President Donald Trump from backing them.
In one instance, Kushner writes that Sessions’ team at the Justice Department successfully thwarted an April 2018 committee markup of the legislation by recommending last-minute changes to the legislation that amounted to “poison pills” and which Kushner at the time described as “ridiculous ” and in “bad faith.” Sessions’ feuds with Kushner over the reform effort and his numerous attempts to block the process were thoroughly reported at the time.
Through an associate, Sessions declined to comment on Kushner’s book.
Amid Sessions’ efforts to block the legislation and try to dissuade conservatives from supporting it, Kushner met with the attorney general and other Justice Department officials to address their concerns.
“Finally Sessions turned to me and in his southern drawl declared, ‘Jared, it’s very simple. If the boy does the crime, you’ve got to lock him up.’ That’s just where he was,” Kushner writes, according to an excerpt obtained by CNN. “From that point forward, I realized that he would try to subvert us at every single turn, making a nearly impossible task even harder.”
Sessions also sought to persuade Trump to oppose the legislation during several Oval Office meetings, at one point falsely warning Trump the measure could make him responsible for the release of violent criminals: “You don’t want to be accountable for the next Willie Horton situation , do you?”
CNN reported at the time that the Horton analogy haunted Trump, leaving him vacillating for months over whether to endorse the criminal justice reform effort his son-in-law was pushing. Aides and outside advocates like Kim Kardashian worked to replace Horton’s name with that of Alice Marie Johnson, a 63-year-old woman whose sentence Trump had commuted the previous spring.
Sessions’ efforts were ultimately unsuccessful and Trump signed the First Step Act into law in December 2018, the most consequential sentencing and prison reform legislation in decades.
While Kushner describes his across-the-aisle work with a slew of Democrats who ultimately helped pass the First Step Act, he notes that “a few refused to meet, including California senator Kamala Harris,” who now serves as vice president. Harris would go on to vote in favor of the bill.
This story has been updated.