Outgoing chief of staff John Kelly blamed Jeff Sessions for family separation policy in new interview

  • Outgoing White House chief of staff John Kelly blamed former Attorney General Jeff Sessions for the separation of hundreds of migrant children from their families.
  • Kelly said “he surprised us” with the full enforcement of the administration’s controversial “zero-tolerance” immigration policy.
  • Homeland Security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen first denied the existence of the policy, then took full responsibility after Sessions touted it.

Outgoing White House chief of staff John Kelly blamed former Attorney General Jeff Sessions for the administration’s policy that resulted in the separation of hundreds of migrant children from their families.

“What happened was Jeff Sessions, he was the one that instituted the zero-tolerance process on the border that resulted in both people being detained and the family separation,” Kelly told the Los Angeles Times in an interview published Sunday.

Kelly added: “He surprised us.”

The policy provoked widespread outcry and conflicting statements from Homeland Security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who initially denied the existence of the policy before taking full responsibility for its enforcement.

An unidentified senior White House official told the Times that Nielsen was forced to take on the brunt of the controversy for the policy Sessions, who resigned at Trump’s request in November, pushed.

“She is a good soldier; she took the face shot,” the official said.

“No one asked her to do it, but by the time we could put together a better strategy, she’d already owned it,” the official added.

Read more: Meet Kirstjen Nielsen, the Homeland Security chief at the center of the controversy over family separations at the US-Mexico border

Sessions explicitly endorsed the policy in May. A month later, Trump ended the policy with an executive order.

“If you cross the border unlawfully… we will prosecute you,” Sessions said at the time. “If you’re smuggling a child, then we’re going to prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you, probably, as required by law. If you don’t want your child separated, then don’t bring them across the border illegally.”

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