By KIM CHANDLER, Associated Press
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Monday stepped up attacks against his Senate primary rival, accusing former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville of hiding and being unprepared for Washington.
Sessions, speaking in Montgomery at the start of a statewide swing ahead of next week’s runoff, accused Tuberville of hiding by refusing to debate despite initially promising he would do so. He also criticized Tuberville’s handling of the case of a football player accused of sexual assault and his involvement in a hedge fund where his partner pleaded guilty to fraud.
“Today, I’m challenging my opponent to come out of hiding,” Sessions said at a stop at Sweet Creek, a restaurant and produce market, outside Montgomery.
“He says he’s tough. He says he’s strong, but he won’t answer basic questions the people of Alabama need to have answered. So, I would say he’s not strong. I say he’s weak. I say he is not ready to take on the powerful forces in Washington that I have had to battle for many, many years.”
Tuberville and Sessions face off in the July 14 Republican runoff for Sessions’ former Senate seat that he resigned to become President Donald Trump’s first attorney general. Tuberville narrowly led Sessions, who was wounded by Trump’s criticisms, in the spring primary, leaving the Sessions camp scrambling to make up ground before the runoff that was postponed until summer because of COVID-19.
Sessions referenced recent news articles about Tuberville, including his handling of a player who was initially charged in 1999 with the statutory rape of a 15-year-old girl. Clifton Robinson later pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Tuberville initially suspended Robinson, but lifted the suspension after the plea deal, and benched him for only the season opener.
Sessions said you cannot place winning football games over the responsibility to protect young girls and teach life lessons to young men.
Tuberville campaign chairman Stan McDonald responded in a statement that, “Just as team doctors had full authority to determine if injured players took the field, Coach Tuberville gave the same kind of authority to the local police, judges, and other law enforcement officials if one of his players crossed a legal line. Immediate suspensions for those transgressions were routine.”
Sessions also attacked Tuberville over a New York Times story that detailed Tuberville’s involvement in a hedge fund in which Tuberville’s partner, John David Stroud, pleaded guilty to fraud.
“Either he was greedy, incompetent, naive or lacked knowledge or he actually deliberately participated in an activity that was criminal,” Sessions said, “I gotta say I think it’s a very bad situation.”
Tuberville’s campaign told the paper that his involvement was a mistake that he has paid for.
Sessions safely held the seat for 20 years before stepping down to become Trump’s first attorney general, a position he was later forced to resign after Trump was unhappy with his recusal in the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Tuberville has tried to focus the race on Trump’s criticism of Sessions. Trump has endorsed Tuberville. Sessions has tried to steer the race back to his long record in Washington and questioning Tuberville’s background.
“I have stood with you. I have advanced our values,” Sessions said.
Sessions has repeatedly challenged Tuberville to debates. Before the March primary, Tuberville told The Associated Press and other news outlets that he would be willing to debate the other candidate in a runoff. He has since declined to participate.
Tuberville’s campaign declined to comment Monday on Sessions’ debate challenge.
The winner will face incumbent Democratic Sen. Doug Jones in November as Republicans seek to recapture the once reliably red state.