Hardliner who crafted Sessions’ harsher sentences memo turns to marijuana policy
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Steve Cook is detailed to the deputy attorney general’s office in Washington, studying policies to see how they reconcile with Jeff Sessions’ top priorities
WASHINGTON — A zealous prosecutor who was crucial in writing the Justice Department’s new policy encouraging harsher punishments for criminals is now turning his attention to hate crimes, marijuana and the ways law enforcement seizes suspects’ cash and property.
Steve Cook’s hardline views on criminal justice were fortified as a cop on the streets of Knoxville, Tennessee, in the late 1970s and early ’80s. The unabashed drug warrior is now armed with a broad mandate to review departmental policies, and observers already worried about Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ agenda are wringing their hands at Cook’s ascension.
After some 30 years of prosecuting mostly violent crimes, Cook sums up his philosophy in simple terms that crystallized one night on patrol when he came upon a family whose station wagon had been hit head-on by a “pilled-up drug user.” Two daughters were dead in the backseat. In Cook’s eyes, everyone had to be punished, including the courier who shuttled the drugs into town and the dealer who sold them to the man behind the wheel.
“This theory that we have embraced since the beginning of civilization is, when you put criminals in prison, crime goes down,” he told The Associated Press during a recent interview. “It really is that simple.”
It is actually a widely challenged view, seen by many as far from simple. But it is one that governs Cook as he helps oversee a new Justice Department task force developing policies to fight violent crime in cities. Already he is pushing ideas that even some Republicans have dismissed as outdated and fiscally irresponsible.
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