Sessions unveils task force to combat transnational criminal groups like MS-13

Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsAttorneys want Supreme Court to determine legality of Whitaker as acting AG Hillicon Valley: Russian-linked hackers may have impersonated US officials | Trump signs DHS cyber bill | Prosecutors inadvertently reveal charges against Assange | Accenture workers protest border enforcement work | App mines crypto for bail bonds McCarthy, other Republicans back Ratcliffe to be next attorney general MORE on Monday announced a new Department of Justice (DOJ) task force to combat transnational criminal organizations that pose a “direct threat” to the United States.

Sessions said the task force would focus on defeating and dismantling five transnational criminal groups: MS-13, Clan del Golfo, Lebanese Hezbollah, Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generación and the Sinaloa Cartel.

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“They represent a direct threat to us,” Sessions said in remarks at the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington, D.C., where he was joined by Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod Jay RosensteinAttorneys want Supreme Court to determine legality of Whitaker as acting AG Top Dems: DOJ position on Whitaker appointment 'fatally flawed' Judge upholds Mueller indictment against Russian troll farm MORE. “We cannot allow them to expand their influence.”

Sessions described the initiative as an expansion of his department's effort to deliver on President TrumpDonald John TrumpMia Love pulls ahead in Utah race as judge dismisses her lawsuit Trump administration denies exploring extradition of Erdoğan foe for Turkey Trump congratulates Kemp, says Abrams will have 'terrific political future' MORE’s promise to combat MS-13 and other international criminal groups, noting the DOJ has “hammered” the gang since the start of the administration.

"Taking on transnational criminal groups like the cartels is a priority for this president and for his administration. The same day I was sworn in as attorney general, President Trump ordered me to disrupt and dismantle these groups," Sessions said. "We have embraced that goal — and we have been faithful to it every day."

He said the task force will help dismantle high-priority criminal organizations.

“Our efforts will be more targeted," Sessions said. "I believe they will be more effective.”

The initiative will be headed by Adam Cohen, head of the Office of Enforcement Operations in the department’s criminal division.

Rosenstein described the task force as the “beginning of a multifront campaign” against drug cartels and other criminal groups that cross national borders.

The remarks came at a point of tension between Trump and his attorney general, whom Trump has often criticized for his recusal from the Russia investigation. In an interview with Hill.TV last month, Trump suggested he was unsatisfied with Sessions’s actions on border security and other issues.

“I don’t have an attorney general. It’s very sad,” Trump said.

“I’m not happy at the border, I’m not happy with numerous things, not just this,” he said, referring to special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign.

In remarks introducing Sessions on Monday, Rosenstein described him as committed to carrying out the president’s agenda.

“He is a public servant of the highest order,” Rosenstein said. “He is here to deliver on President Trump’s commitment to make America safe.”

The new task force will be comprised of five subcommittees, one for each of the targeted groups, that will be run by designated U.S. prosecutors across the country, including in districts in Florida and New York.

Sessions said he has ordered the task force to submit recommendations on the best ways to prosecute these groups within the next 90 days.

The officials made the announcement to a room of federal and foreign law enforcement officials, including agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration as well as prosecutors from Mexico. Both Sessions and Rosenstein recognized members of the audience for their work.

“The public may not know you, but they see the fruits of your hard work,” Rosenstein said. 

— This report was updated at 11:34 a.m.