Attorney General Jeff Sessions was speaking at an event hosted by the conservative group Turning Point USA on Tuesday when the crowd began to chant, “Lock her up.” The phrase was a common refrain among supporters of Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign and referred to the desired punishment for his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.
Sessions, whose position advising that campaign was parlayed into one as the nation’s chief law enforcement official, chuckled.
“Lock her up,” he said.
Sessions’s speech to TPUSA’s High School Leadership Summit was focused on the perceived rejection of free speech rights on college campuses, a favorite subject of TPUSA.
“Too many schools are coddling our young people and actively preventing them from scrutinizing the validity of their beliefs and the issues of the day,” he said. “That is the exact opposite of what we expect from universities in our country.”
He cited some examples of how college students reacted to the results of the 2016 election and praised the audience members for what he characterized as their relative toughness.
“I can tell this group isn’t going to have to have Play-Doh when you get attacked in college and you get involved in a debate,” Sessions said. “You’re going to stand up and defend yourselves and the values that you believe in. I like this bunch, I can tell you. You’re not going to be backing down. Go get ’em! Go get ’em!”
The crowd, which had erupted into a “lock her up” chant earlier, began the chant again.
“Lock her up,” Sessions chuckled. The chants continued, and he added, “I heard that a long time over the last campaign.”
Session’s approach to the chant differed a bit from that of former campaign adviser Michael Flynn, who had enthusiastically joined in the same chant at the Republican National Convention two years ago.
“We do not need a reckless president who believes she is above the law,” Flynn said at the time. He was picking up on a theme introduced by Trump himself, who repeatedly called Clinton “Crooked Hillary” at campaign events.
“We’re going to turn this country around so fast,” Trump said at a speech in January 2016. “If we have another four years of the Obama mentality, Hillary Clinton stuff — I mean, she should be going to jail. I don’t know what the hell’s going on.”
In October, he tweeted the same sentiment.
Once he assumed the presidency, Trump publicly and repeatedly pressured Sessions to investigate Trump’s political opponents, including Clinton.
The focus of that push was often Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state.
“Many people in our Country are asking what the ‘Justice’ Department is going to do about the fact that totally Crooked Hillary, AFTER receiving a subpoena from the United States Congress, deleted and ‘acid washed’ 33,000 Emails?” Trump tweeted in December. “No justice!”
Our fact-checkers looked at that claim during the campaign.
Sessions, as the head of the Justice Department, has resisted calls to investigate Clinton. In March, he rejected a call for a special counsel to dig into Clinton’s actions.
Last month, the inspector general for the Justice Department released a report focused on the department’s handling of the email investigation. It found that the decision not to charge Clinton was not politically motivated.
After the chant ended at the conference Tuesday, Sessions went back to his speech.
“Rather than molding a generation of mature and well-informed adults,” he said to the high school students, “some schools are doing everything they can to create a generation of sanctimonious, sensitive, supercilious snowflakes.”
“We’re not going to have it,” he said to applause.