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Jeff Sessions appears to refer to a prominent Black Harvard scholar as "some criminal"

Former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who is running for his old Senate seat in Alabama, appeared to refer to a prominent Black professor at Harvard as "some criminal," while disparaging former President Barack Obama's treatment of police officers. Sessions made the remarks in a New York Times Magazine profile published online Tuesday.

In the interview, Sessions said he wanted to support law enforcement when he served as President Trump's first attorney general and that his mantra was, "Back to the men and women in blue."

"The police had been demoralized," Sessions said. "There was all the Obama — there's a riot, and he has a beer at the White House with some criminal, to listen to him. Wasn't having a beer with the police officers. So we said, 'We're on your side. We've got your back, you got our thanks.'"

This appears to be a reference to Mr. Obama's famous "beer summit" at the White House in the early months of his first term. Attendees included Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the director of Harvard University's Center for African and African American Research. Gates also hosts the PBS show "Finding Your Roots," in which he traces the genealogy of celebrities. 

The summit happened in July 2009 after a highly publicized incident where Gates was arrested at his own home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, by a white police officer. Gates had been trying to open a jammed door, and a woman called the police to report it as an attempted break-in. 

After Gates confronted the officer, James Crowley, and accused him of racial bias, the officer arrested him on a disorderly conduct charge, which was later dropped.

The arrest was one of the first high-profile controversies about racial bias in policing during Mr. Obama's presidency, and the uproar reached a next level after Mr. Obama said police "acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home." The remark drew widespread anger from law enforcement and Mr. Obama soon said the comment and resulting media frenzy were "unfortunate." 

To cool tensions, he invited both Gates and Crowley to the White House to discuss it over a beer. The professor and the police officer both said after the meeting that they had talked out their differences.

A Sessions spokesman did not clarify to The Times if Sessions was speaking about that incident in his "criminal" remark, and did not immediately respond to CBS News for comment. Gates also did not respond. 

U.S. Attorney General Sessions addresses a news conference to announce a criminal law enforcement action involving China at the Justice Department in Washington
Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions  JONATHAN ERNST / REUTERS

Elsewhere in the interview, Sessions was asked if he'd support efforts at police reform following nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd.

"I think you should probably have some money for actually training for riots," he said. "That's what really needs to be done. Not tell the police, 'If you were just more sensitive, riots wouldn't occur.'" 

As attorney general, Sessions often argued that officers were unfairly blamed for violence.

Sessions' nomination for a federal judgeship in 1986 was blocked after Justice Department lawyers who had worked with him testified that he had made racially insensitive remarks, such as calling the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People "un-American" and referring to a black attorney as "boy." 

Sessions denied making the remarks. He would later serve 20 years as a Republican Senator for Alabama until Mr. Trump tapped him to be attorney general. The alleged remarks also came up during Sessions' confirmation hearings.

Mr. Trump publicly turned on Sessions for failing to protect him from the Mueller investigation, and Sessions resigned at the president's request in November 2018. 

Sessions is now running for his former Senate seat, and Mr. Trump has endorsed his primary opponent, Tommy Tuberville. The vote is set for July 14. 

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