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Sessions, Brown clash; feud escalates

Profile image for Don Thompson and Elliott Spagat
Don Thompson and Elliott Spagat, Associated Press

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions dramatically escalated the Trump administration's war with California on Wednesday, suing over its so-called sanctuary state law and clashing with Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown in a fiery exchange of words.

Sessions was defiant as he spoke to local law enforcement officials about the lawsuit, citing a series of California laws that he says are unconstitutional and violate common sense.

"I can't sit by idly while the lawful authority of federal officers are being blocked by legislative acts and politicians," he said, straying from his script.

Brown didn't hold back in his response, calling Sessions a liar and saying it was unprecedented for the attorney general to "act more like Fox News than a law enforcement officer." He accused Sessions of "going to war" with California to appease President Donald Trump.

"What Jeff Sessions said is simply not true and I call upon him to apologize to the people of California for bringing the mendacity of Washington to California," the governor told reporters.

The lawsuit is the latest salvo in an escalating feud between the Trump administration and California, which has resisted the president on issues from marijuana policy to climate change and defiantly refuses to help federal agents detain and deport immigrants. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has said it will increase its presence in California, and Sessions wants to cut off funding to jurisdictions that won't cooperate.

The governor and state Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who has sued the Trump administration numerous times, held a news conference just blocks from where Sessions spoke at a hotel, but they never interacted.

Sessions also used his speech to criticize Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf for warning the public about an unannounced raid by federal deportation officers recently in California. Sessions said it allowed hundreds of "wanted criminals" to avoid arrest.

"How dare you?" Sessions said of Schaaf at a California Peace Officers Association meeting in Sacramento. "How dare you needlessly endanger the lives of law enforcement just to promote your radical open borders agenda?"

Schaaf later echoed the refrain to slam Sessions for tearing apart families and distorting the reality of declining violent crime in a "sanctuary city" like Oakland.

"How dare you vilify members of our community by trying to frighten the American public into believing that all undocumented residents are dangerous criminals?" she told reporters.

Brown speculated that Sessions' dig on California may be an attempt to ease an openly rocky relationship with the president, saying, "Maybe he's trying to keep his job because the president is not too happy with him."

FEATURED PHOTO: California Gov. Jerry Brown, right, gestures as Attorney General Xavier Becerra laughs during a Wednesday press conference at the California State Capitol in Sacramento. (Stephen Lam/AP)