WASHINGTON — Attorney General Jeff Sessions resigned Wednesday at the request of President Trump, ending a turbulent tenure that followed months of Trump expressing his displeasure with him.
Trump announced the move with a tweet saying that Matthew Whitaker, Sessions’ chief of staff, would take over as acting attorney general.
Sessions made it clear in his resignation letter that the president had asked him to step down, saying he was submitting his resignation “at your request.”
Sessions was considered a big concern for the adult entertainment industry before his confirmation as AG because of his hard-line, far-right positions on everything from immigration to fiscal spending to pornography. Sessions had extensive legal experience as a federal prosecutor in his home state of Alabama and later served as senator for almost two decades.
At his AG confirmation hearing, Sen. Orrin Hatch asked Sessions whether he would more “vigorously” prosecute adult obscenity laws targeting pornography and re-establish a special unit to prosecute these cases that former Attorney General Eric Holder disbanded during Obama’s first term.
“Those laws are clear and being prosecuted today and should be continued to be effectively and vigorously prosecuted in the cases that are appropriate,” Sessions said at the time.
On Wednesday, one day after the midterm elections, Sessions was out as AG.
Trump’s apparent anger stemmed from Session's decision to recuse himself from a probe of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and any possible cooperation between the Trump campaign and Moscow.
This afternoon, XBIZ checked in with numerous adult entertainment attorneys to learn their opinions on whether the industry should heave a sigh of relief or be wary of his replacement. Here’s what they had to say:
Allan B. Gelbard
I think this is generally good for the industry but bad for the country as a whole. Sessions was clearly no fan of the porn industry. During his confirmation hearings, he told Hatch that he would rebuild the Obscenity Prosecution Taskforce. I don’t believe that happened. I’d be surprised if Trump actually goes after porn as he offers hard core pay-per-view in his hotels.
But I suspect this is the opening salvo in trying to eliminate the Mueller investigation. I believe there are indictments coming sooner rather than later and Trump will try anything to stop them, especially because I believe Don Jr. and Roger Stone will be indicted very soon. I fear another Saturday Night Massacre is coming and I don’t know how this country will deal with it this time.
I think we have a sigh. Not of relief so much as just a sigh. We’ve seen this coming for a long time. The replacement is described as a “back-slapping good old boy” for whatever it’s worth.
In my humble opinion, the longer the Justice Department remains in a tumultuous phase and the longer that the department appears rudderless, the better for the adult industry. There doesn’t seem to be any strong program or resources aimed at our business.
D. Gill Sperlein
So far, this administration has not directly attacked the adult entertainment industry and I expect that will continue. However, last year Whitaker wrote an op-ed for CNN calling Mueller out of control and demanding that the investigation end.
When Whitaker moves against Mueller, which he is certain to do anything that might distract the country's attention will be a potential target. The marijuana industry and the adult entertainment industry should remain on guard.
Corey D. Silverstein
Internal turmoil in the Trump administration is nothing new and Session’s departure has been a long time coming. Candidly, the Trump administration and whoever ultimately ends up as the “permanent replacement” (I would note that nobody can truly be referred to as a “permanent replacement” in the Trump administration) has far more pressing issues to address than the adult industry.
Don’t forget that during Sessions confirmation hearings he acknowledged that he would prosecute obscenity. I am not aware of a single instance in which Sessions moved forward with his warning.
Whitaker getting the nod is a little surprising because, typically, the deputy attorney general (Rod Rosenstein) would fill the role. Whitaker is of course famous for calling the Mueller investigation a “witch hunt.”
As for the future, I believe that the federal government is hungry to put FOSTA to the test, and whoever ultimately gets picked as the permanent-replacement attorney general may face increased pressure to advance the administration’s hardline stance against human trafficking and prostitution.
In the end if we see any action against the adult industry from the next attorney general I would place my bet on a FOSTA-related prosecution rather than obscenity.
I don’t think Sessions was actually a threat. He did nothing to the adult industry while he was in, so we now have to be more concerned with who replaces him.
Be very wary! Whitaker will not need to answer to anyone. But as a practical matter, he would not have appointed without a strong belief that he would answer to Trump. And wouldn’t some obscenity prosecutions be a good distraction while Whitaker tries to undermine the Mueller investigation?
I believe that the Trump administration is involved in so many issues right now, which are at the forefront of the news, that attempting to prosecute obscenity is not currently a priority on its agenda.
With regard to the enforcement of FOSTA, I don’t think that this “changing of the guard,” so to speak, will have an impact one way or the other. However, considering the long history of tension between the government and the adult industry, of course, only time will tell.
As to Sessions, there is only the smallest chance that a change of AGs will make a difference in regard to obscenity prosecution policy and planning.
This is not an administration that sees morals enforcement as a priority for government. It is not an administration that wants to impose cultural values from the top down. That's just not how this administration sees the government's role in a free society; it sees itself as a reaction to too much of that in the prior administration.
Moral and cultural values must be organic, and the government's role is to react to society's values, not to determine them.
The only serious chance of obscenity prosecutions would be against content so far against the grain of the pretty tolerant values of our society as a whole that a general and widespread outcry arises. I'd be very surprised if it makes any difference who sits in the chair at DOJ in the Trump administration regarding obscenity prosecution decisions.
The resignation of Sessions is likely a net positive for the adult industry in the short term. While there have been no obscenity prosecutions during Sessons’ tenure, his comments at the confirmation hearing indicated that he was in favor of renewing that effort.
I am not aware of Whitaker taking any public stance on the issue of adult entertainment or obscenity enforcement. Until a permanent replacement is named and confirmed, it is unlikely that any major policy shifts will occur at DOJ. The more important question is: who will be nominated for that permanent position?