GROSS: So the goal is to keep America more white and Christian?
BAZELON: Well, yes. I think, bluntly speaking, that’s the case. So Sessions, for example, on Bannon’s radio show a couple of years ago was talking about an earlier period in American history of high immigration in the beginning of the 20th century. And he talked about that as a radical time. And he used that in a kind of pejorative sense. And then he said that the solution was the 1924 immigration quotas Congress passed and that those quotas were, quote, “good for America.”
So the 1924 immigration quotas barred immigration from most of Asia. And they tightly capped the number of people who could come from Italy, the number of Jews, people from the Middle East and Africa. So we’re not talking about a kind of neutral form of immigration restrictions. We’re talking about a particular way of trying to hold on to a vision of America, the kind of traditional Christian European demographic.
GROSS: So you say that Sessions and Bannon see immigration and the country’s changing demographics as America’s chief internal threat. What is the threat?
BAZELON: Well, I think from their point of view, there’s a kind of cultural threat going on. So one of the things Bannon said before the election was that he was worried that so many of the CEOs in Silicon Valley were from South Asia or from Asia.
And then he said a country is more than an economy, we’re a civic society. That seems to imply that if we have too many minorities and foreign-born people here, we’re not going to have the same kind of civic society that we’ve had in the past, that there is a kind of damage or fraying that will be happening. And that’s a, you know, very distinct idea of why you want to prevent immigration.
BAZELON: In 2015, Jeff Sessions wrote a 23-page memo to his colleagues saying that the party had to show working class voters how lax immigration policies have stolen their jobs and erased their prospects for moving up the social ladder. What do you know about that memo?
.. One of the themes that Trump emphasized throughout his campaign and has continued to push as president is the idea that there’s this very dark rise in crime happening particularly in what he calls the inner cities. It’s not statistically accurate. Actually, we’ve had a 25-year decline in crime with a small uptick in 2015.
But Trump really pushes this notion that America is under threat and that there’s all this danger. And there’s an obvious political reason for this. Republican presidential candidates since Nixon have tended to win office when they really strike a law and order theme
.. And so instead of kind of balancing the interests of law enforcement with the interests of people in the community who feel threatened by the police, we’re really seeing a shift here toward always siding on – with the police.
.. Jim Comey as head of the FBI has a fair amount of independence. But you’re right, the Justice Department oversees his work. And he wanted a kind of backup in refuting Trump from the Justice Department that Jeff Sessions was not willing to give.
There is a kind of further wrinkle here, which was that because Sessions didn’t mention his own meetings with the Russian ambassador during his confirmation
.. So during the George W. Bush administration, Alberto Gonzales testified before Congress. He wound up I believe saying, I do not recall, more than 60 times. This was in relation to another scandal over firing a group of U.S. attorneys that actually was also prompted by voter fraud investigations if you can believe it. And Gonzales was not prosecuted for perjury. But he did have to resign.
.. And I do think it’s a very good sign that Jeff Sessions recused himself from the investigation of the potential ties between the Trump campaign and Russia because that was an important norm kicking in. Trump publicly asked Sessions not to recuse himself, said he didn’t see any reasons for Sessions to do that. And Sessions did it anyway. And that was the right thing for him to do in terms of his professional integrity.