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

Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsSarah Sanders to leave White House Sarah Sanders to leave White House Barr compares his return to DOJ to D-Day invasion 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 RosensteinTrump: I didn't fire Mueller since firings 'didn't work out too well' for Nixon Trump: I didn't fire Mueller since firings 'didn't work out too well' for Nixon GOP group urges Republicans to speak out on obstruction claims against Trump in new ad 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 TrumpTrump cites tax cuts over judges as having biggest impact of his presidency Trump cites tax cuts over judges as having biggest impact of his presidency Ocasio-Cortez claps back at Trump after he cites her in tweet rejecting impeachment 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 (Bob) Swan MuellerKamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction Kamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction Dem committees win new powers to investigate Trump 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.