Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, a prominent surrogate for Republican nominee Donald Trump, says Trump's 1989 newspaper ads advocating the death penalty for five men of color accused of raping a jogger in Central Park show that he has always been a believer in law and order.
"That speech was great, and Trump has always been this way," Sessions, who was the first member of Congress to endorse Trump, said on the Matt & Aunie show on WAPI radio. "He bought an ad — people say he wasn't a conservative — but he bought an ad 20 years ago in the New York Times calling for the death penalty. How many people in New York, that liberal bastion, were willing to do something like that?"
"So he believes in law and order and he has the strength and will to make this country safer," Sessions added. "The biggest benefits from that, really, are poor people in the neighborhoods that are most dangerous where most of the crime is occurring. And I think people can come to understand that if the message continues to pound away."
Trump spent more than $85,000 to publish controversial full-page newspaper ads calling to "BRING THE DEATH PENALTY BACK!" The five men who were sentenced for the rape were later exonerated, but only after they had served their full sentences. The men convicted were all black and Latino and in their mid-teens.
Their wrongful conviction settlement, which ran into millions of dollars, was sharply criticized by Trump. He wrote an op-ed in the New York Daily News in 2014 calling the settlement a disgrace. He later tweeted in response to criticism, "Tell me, what were they doing in the Park, playing checkers?" One of the exonerated men later blamed Trump for helping turn public opinion against them.