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May 24, 2018

STAY TUNED: Winning Alabama (with Senator Doug Jones)

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Doug Jones is a Democratic Senator from Alabama. He talks with Preet about what it takes to turn red states blue, prosecuting civil rights cold cases as U.S. attorney, and how he makes decisions on contentious votes—like the recent Haspel and Pompeo nominations.

Plus, Preet breaks down the president’s call for an investigation into the Department of Justice.

Do you have a question for Preet? Tweet them to @PreetBharara with the hashtag #askpreet, email [email protected], or call 669-247-7338 and leave a voicemail.

Winning Alabama (with Senator Doug Jones)

Air date: 5/24/18

Preet Bharara:

Senator Jones, thank you so much for being on the show.

Doug Jones:

Hey, it’s my pleasure. I appreciate you having me.

Preet Bharara:

So, when you walked into the studio, you’re in a very good mood and it seems like the reason you were is you went to a concert last night, Bon Jovi.

Doug Jones:

Yeah, absolutely.

Preet Bharara:

How was it?

Doug Jones:

It was awesome. It was great. Cory Booker helped arranged it. We had a nice little event there. It was great music. Loud, very loud, incredible crowd, brought the house down. This was just a good time and a good event. But at the same time, I’m really more of a Springsteen fan when it comes to-

Preet Bharara:

Wow, welcome to the club.

Doug Jones:

Yeah.

Preet Bharara:

Is Springsteen big in Alabama?

Doug Jones:

Oh, yeah. Yeah. Working class guy.

Preet Bharara:

Good.

Doug Jones:

I mean, that’s the main thing, working class guy can relate to a lot of folks.

Preet Bharara:

So, congratulations-

Doug Jones:

Thank you.

Preet Bharara:

… on your election. It’s been a while, but it’s never too late to say congratulations.

Doug Jones:

Well, it’s been surreal for me. It was an amazing ride, an interesting ride. And being up here in the Senate, sitting in my old boss’s seat, Senator Heflin’s seat. People ask me all the time, are you getting used to it? And I tell them no, and I hope I never do. I want to still have that same feeling like it’s a holiday or whatever it might be every time I walk onto the floor, or just through the senate halls, so it’s great.

Preet Bharara:

So, what’s that like? You show up, you’re the new guy because it was a special election, are people neighborly? Do they bring you like a bun cake?

Doug Jones:

Oh, well, I didn’t get a bun cake. I did get a candy.

Preet Bharara:

Who gave you candy?

Doug Jones:

Kamala Harris brought me a big tray of different candies. And Booker brought M&Ms, which he knows I’m a M&M guy.

Preet Bharara:

Peanut, raisin?

Doug Jones:

Peanut M&M.

Preet Bharara:

Got to be peanut.

Doug Jones:

And there were different little bit of things like that. But everybody on both sides, yeah, were really nice.

Preet Bharara:

How about Senator Schumer, did he bring anything?

Doug Jones:

Schumer helped bring me to the senate. So, that was enough, okay?

Preet Bharara:

All right. So, you’re a Yankee fan?

Doug Jones:

Yeah.

Preet Bharara:

In addition to being a Bruce Springsteen fan.

Doug Jones:

Absolutely.

Preet Bharara:

How does that happen? Oh, well, you got to remember, I’m an old guy, and I came up in an era of baseball, where it was Mickey Mantle, and Roger Maris, and Joe Pepitone, and Whitey Ford, and Yogi Berra, and all those guys. And they were just the idols of the baseball world, in my view.

Preet Bharara:

I was seven years old getting into baseball myself in 1961. And I can remember following baseball that entire summer and sitting in front of my little black and white TV, watching Roger Maris hit that 61st homerun. So, that just doesn’t leave you as a kid. So, despite that we got the Braves, which I like, I go to Braves games. I hadn’t been to a nationals’ game up here. I’m just still a Yankee fan from old.

Preet Bharara:

They’re doing well this season.

Doug Jones:

They’re doing well this season. Yeah.

Preet Bharara:

You think baseball has gotten too slow?

Doug Jones:

Where I am right now, with the pace that I’m going right now, if I could get to a game that’s a little bit slower game, I’m good with that.

Preet Bharara:

Okay. Do you want the Bon Jovi concert to go fast?

Doug Jones:

Yeah, yeah. After a little bit, you were ready. My ears were about to explode.

Preet Bharara:

Right, right. So, we have so much to talk about. You’ve had an unbelievable career. The last senator that I interviewed was right here in the studio, Sheldon Whitehouse, who has a similar career to you, US Attorney. And then Senator, why did you become a prosecutor?

Doug Jones:

Well, initially, it was almost by default as an Assistant US Attorney. I came up here, my first job was here in the senate. Work on the Senate Judiciary Committee, with Howell Heflin from Alabama. It was his first year in the Senate. I had worked on his campaign. They offered me a one year gig up here. Heflin was a former Supreme Court Justice in Alabama, Chief Justice.

Doug Jones:

And he wanted to establish a clerkship, like a law clerkship for a year, someone would go clerk for a federal judge. He wanted to bring a recent law school grad up for a year working on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and then go back to Alabama, practice law, be part of the Heflin family. So, I did that, but I was fortunate enough to get a job as an Assistant US Attorney.

Doug Jones:

So, I went back. I was put into a prosecutor’s role early on. I think my old boss saw that I had at least enough aptitude for trial work. And in those days, unlike where you were, and later on for me in those days, we were getting files handed to us and say, “Hey, I’m busy. Can you go try this case?” So, we’d literally go from courtroom to courtroom. You get a lot of experience that way.

Preet Bharara:

You do. So then later, you became the United States Attorney.

Doug Jones:

Yeah.

Preet Bharara:

How was that?

Doug Jones:

It was awesome. It was a job that I had obviously aspired to for a while. I thought that it had passed me by and things just worked out just right. I was at the second term of the Clinton administration. And it was just a dream job. I still think being United States Attorney is the greatest legal job in the world. It has a lot of prestige with it. But you also can do a lot of good things.

Preet Bharara:

Yeah. No, I enjoyed it.

Doug Jones:

You’ve been there. Yeah.

Preet Bharara:

For seven and a half years, I did. But there’s a particular case that brought you a lot of attention and acclaim. I think listeners know about it, but I want to talk about it in a little more detail. And I think it seems to have defined you in some ways, and obviously played a role in your biography in connection with the senate race.

Preet Bharara:

And that was a prosecution of a crime that happened two years before you became the US Attorney. There was a bombing at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. That bombing happened in 1963. You were a kid.

Doug Jones:

Yeah. Nine years old.

Preet Bharara:

Do you remember that?

Doug Jones:

No. I keep telling folks, I wish I could tell folks that I did. But I lived a fairly sheltered life in a little town called Fairfield, which was a US steel town on the outskirts of Birmingham. And it was a segregated community like the rest of the South, and it was pretty sheltered. So, you would see bits and pieces on telegram vision. But in those days, the Yankees and Alabama football, those were the things that dominated my life at that point.

Preet Bharara:

Right. So, tell people what happened. What was the level of carnage at that church?

Doug Jones:

Well, there were four young girls that were killed, and you have to set that stage a little bit. Well, what went on in Birmingham earlier in the year because 1963 in Birmingham was the defining year? It’s really a defining year for the country, I think. Because in the spring, you had what was known as the children’s marches where the kids march the streets of Birmingham.

Doug Jones:

They met at 16th Street Baptist Church, and that’s when they were met with the fire hoses and dogs that Bull Connor foisted upon them. That summer you had to stand in the schoolhouse door. In Tuscaloosa, you had the murder of Medgar Evers. Now, I have a dream speech. More bombings that occurred in Birmingham.

Doug Jones:

Birmingham City Schools were going to be integrated for the first time in the fall of 1963 and Birmingham was like a powder keg. And that sets the stage for the horrific bombing on a Sunday morning, right between Sunday school and church, about 10:22, a bomb that was placed outside the church, underneath some steps, right outside a window to the lady’s lounge that was in the basement of the church.

Doug Jones:

And that’s where these four girls, actually, there were five, one survived, were getting ready for the youth worship service that was going to be that day. And four died and one survived.

Preet Bharara:

And not everyone was prosecuted for that crime.

Doug Jones:

No. It took 14 years for the first prosecution to take place. A fellow named Robert Chambliss, affectionately known as Dynamite Bob, who was thought to be involved in a lot of the bombings. My old friend, then Alabama Attorney General Bill Baxley prosecuted that case. As a second-year law student, I cut classes and went to watch that trial.

Preet Bharara:

So, that was in 1977.

Doug Jones:

That was in 1977.

Preet Bharara:

So, why did it take so long to prosecute even the first person?

Doug Jones:

It was just a different time. There was a couple of things, and the FBI did a really remarkable job, but that was the first deaths that occurred in Birmingham among all the bombings. And the clan members that were involved or even associated, shut up, they just clammed up.

Doug Jones:

So, despite the incredible work, the FBI just could not make a case. And the state authorities were not even really trying. I mean, they were looking to try to do crazy things like prove that the black community bombed the church to try to help the cause. I mean, crazy stuff like that.

Doug Jones:

And they just didn’t have the evidence. Remember, in those days, it would have been an all-white male jury. And you can only look and see what happened in some of the other cases around the South, they would have never gotten a conviction.

Preet Bharara:

So, you had the one trial in 1977 that you snuck out of law school to go see.

Doug Jones:

Right, right.

Preet Bharara:

How did you feel when you’re watching that trial?

Doug Jones:

It was a defining moment. I mean, to watch number one, a great lawyering on an Alabama Attorney General still taking somewhat of a political risk in 1977. And then at the same time, you knew the significance, you understood the significance, you felt like things were beginning to turn, and change, and change for the better in my state, and in the country, and the south.

Doug Jones:

There were nine white jurors, three black jurors that convicted Robert Chambliss, and it was a very moving experience. I can remember sitting in the balcony watching Baxley’s closing argument, with tears in my eyes. It was everybody in the courtroom was the same way. It was a very impactful trial to watch. And to see the success, and how that was received was, I think, also very, very positive.

Preet Bharara:

What do you remember about the summation?

Doug Jones:

I remember two things. One, he was only trying for the murder of one girl Denise McNair. That day happened to be her birthday. And the whole summation. It almost sounds corny as we talk about it, years and years later, was talking about giving her a birthday present that she had never got, and that is to bring her killers to justice.

Doug Jones:

That was very powerful. The other thing I remember, there were pictures of those four girls that were taken in the makeshift morgue that had been set up at UAB hospital. And Baxley had use those as most murder prosecutions do. And as he laid those pictures on the rail in front of the jury, it was not like today where we’ve got, PowerPoints, and TV cameras, and computer monitors.

Doug Jones:

He laid those black and white photographs. You could just see the jury squinch up, and you could see… I didn’t see those photographs, but you could just feel the power of those photographs of those dead girls that I didn’t see for 24 years later and now understood.

Preet Bharara:

So, in 1977, race relations were not great.

Doug Jones:

No.

Preet Bharara:

And so, how much controversy surrounded this trial back then?

Doug Jones:

Well, I think there was a fair amount of controversy. Birmingham and Alabama had moved forward considerably, but you could still feel the undercurrent. The next year, Baxley ran for governor, and I am convinced he lost that governor’s race because of that case.

Doug Jones:

Across the state, people resented it. He got a lot of hate mail from folks. Interestingly, he got a lot of hate mail from outside the state of Alabama too. And I’ve got some copies of those. We never got that 24 years later when we did our cases.

Preet Bharara:

How strong was the case against Chambliss?

Doug Jones:

I thought it was relatively strong. It was still a lot of circumstantial evidence. It’s very similar to the case I think that we had against Cherry, and that there was really no physical evidence that put him there. But statements that he made both before and after. You had a niece that testified against him.

Doug Jones:

You had a lady who had been visiting from Detroit who was coming in late one night at 2:00 in the morning before the bombing that morning on Sunday, saw an automobile parked right near the church and identified Chambliss as being in there. So, it was fairly circumstantial.

Doug Jones:

I think the real killer for him was the whole defense had been built around him taking the witness stand, but Baxley had done such a wonderful job cross examining folks that when he got up there, when the defense lawyer stood up, and announced their next witness would be Robert Chambliss. He said, “I ain’t going up there.” And Baxley, as a prosecutor, you can’t comment.

Preet Bharara:

No.

Doug Jones:

And Baxley tells the story, you can’t comment on a defendant’s refusal to take the stand. Baxley sit next to the jury saying, “What did he say? What did he say? And Chambliss just got louder, saying, “I ain’t going. I ain’t going.” Baxley never commented.

Preet Bharara:

Wow.

Doug Jones:

Yeah.

Preet Bharara:

So, Chambliss had not acted alone.

Doug Jones:

No.

Preet Bharara:

There were other people. And it took another two decades, as you’ve mentioned, for someone else to be brought to justice. How did that happen?

Doug Jones:

Well, it was a combination of events that occurred before I became US Attorney. The Justice Department in the black community in Birmingham got at odds in the late ’80s and early ’90s over some public corruption investigations. There were a lot of lingering resentments. A new FBI agent in charge of Birmingham came in, wanted to write that wrong, mend those fences.

Doug Jones:

Very religious guy, started visiting the black churches. He was from Tuscaloosa, Rob Langford originally, and started visiting some of the churches, and slowly developed a relationship. And finally, convinced some of the black preachers and other leaders to come visit him in the FBI office, and he said, “What can I do to help?”

Doug Jones:

And they brought up the church bombing. They said, “We’ve always believed and know that there were others involved. Why haven’t you done something?” He said, “Let me check.” By this time, you got to remember there were a couple of prosecutions that have taken place in Mississippi.

Doug Jones:

Byron De La Beckwith had been convicted for the murder of Medgar Evers. Sam Bowers was convicted for the murder of Vernon Dahmer. And so, there was in the community’s mind that you can go back, and you’ve got a whole new generation of jurors, prosecutors, investigators.

Doug Jones:

And so, Rob to his credit, looked at it, talked to his superiors at the FBI, talked to then acting US Attorney Caryl Privett, reopened the case and I came in about a year later, as the case was just beginning to get a little bit of legs.

Preet Bharara:

So, it gained steam-

Doug Jones:

It gained steam.

Preet Bharara:

… fairly quickly?

Doug Jones:

It took about 10 to 12 months for the two investigators assigned to the case to really go through the documents. All the files were still there.

Preet Bharara:

Right. But witnesses have passed, and documents have gone away, and memories fade. So, all cases are hard as you and I both know. Particularly difficult and hard when so much time has passed. How’d you overcome that challenge?

Doug Jones:

Well, first, the first thing that happened was right before I became US Attorney, and I became US Attorney in September of 1997. That summer, about six weeks before that, they decided to go out and visit Bobby Frank Cherry who we ultimately indicted and convicted. They thought he was 72 years old, they thought he might break.

Doug Jones:

He came close to helping and confessing back in the ’70s. And they went out and visited him. He didn’t break. They interviewed him for four hours. But what he did afterwards, about two or three days afterwards, he called a press conference. And he actually announced that the investigation had been reopened, and that they were hounding them again.

Doug Jones:

And when that happened, phone started bringing and people that Cherry had made ad missions to over the years, started calling in, and saying, “Let me tell you what he told us.” One was his granddaughter. One was a fellow who was living in Birmingham who had been living in Dallas. We had several. There were like five that we ultimately found, and that was the real break that we needed.

Preet Bharara:

What’s it like to hear that someone’s granddaughter basically gave evidence against the grandfather?

Doug Jones:

It was tough. It was tough for her. Now, she was estranged for the family. He had abused her earlier, and she had not been part of family, she’d had a difficult life. It turned her life around.

Preet Bharara:

Right. It also makes her difficult witness.

Doug Jones:

Makes her difficult witness, but she was so forthcoming. My assistant went out there to interview her the first time and came back so impressed. Sometimes people with difficult past like that can absolutely make the best witness. She had a family, she had a child, turned things around. She was a great witness.

Doug Jones:

A year later in just a fluke of circumstances, we found an ex-wife of Cherry’s. They have been looking for a couple or three years, could not find her. And a reporter from Mississippi, Jackson, Jerry Mitchell, from the Jackson Clarion-Ledger came over and did a story, just as we were starting grand jury. And that story hit the wire services.

Doug Jones:

And this ex-wife saw the story in a little hometown newspaper in Montana, and picked up the phone, called the FBI, drove a couple hundred miles and said, “Let me tell you about this guy. I was married to him. He used to talk about the bombing. Car broke down near the church one time, he showed me the steps where they planted the bomb, talked about making the fuse.” It was an incredible series of events that helped break this case wide open.

Preet Bharara:

It doesn’t always happen.

Doug Jones:

No, it doesn’t always happen.

Preet Bharara:

And then the trial begins when?

Doug Jones:

The trials began, we had two… we indicted the cases together. Blanton, Tommy Blanton and Bobby Cherry, in May of 2000. Trial was set in April. We had an issue with Cherry’s competency, so we separated them, and we had to get him evaluated. About three or four months before trial, we also found a tape recording. A bug that had been placed in Blanton’s house.

Doug Jones:

He had been married, his girlfriend Jean, who was his alibi through these 30 something years, even though they were divorced in that tape recording that we found with a conversation with him, and his wife, and a third party who we never identified. He’s talking about that weekend in making the bomb. It was the most damning piece of evidence. I mean, it was truly.

Preet Bharara:

Who placed the bug?

Doug Jones:

The FBI.

Preet Bharara:

You know about that bug for a lot of years?

Doug Jones:

A lot of years. I mean, all the old agents that we interviewed said, “Yeah, there were bugs everywhere, and there were wiretaps. We didn’t get anything.”

Preet Bharara:

I usually keep track of the bugs that-

Doug Jones:

Yeah, I got that. And there were notes, but after 30 years, they’d been put aside. The one thing I think the reason why is that the FBI never thought that they could be used, they were put there for intelligence gathering purposes at that time.

Doug Jones:

And we were able once we found it, I mean, literally he says three times that weekend, making the bomb planting the bomb. And his alphabet, his then wife who he was talking to, who was his alibi, admitted that she lied to the FBI when interviewed. So, she stayed off the stand.

Preet Bharara:

How did you feel when you heard the tape?

Doug Jones:

I was literally bouncing off the wall. It was what we needed. We had a very, very, I won’t say very, very weak case against Blanton, but it was pretty weak. We had one good witness, who was very strong. We had a couple others, but it was so circumstantial. And I got to tell you enough, I tell folks as much as I love being in the US Senate, those two convictions were the best.

Preet Bharara:

What was it like convicting Bobby Frank Cherry?

Doug Jones:

We convicted Blanton first, and then Cherry, I think the Blanton-

Preet Bharara:

And you tried-

Doug Jones:

I tried both of you them.

Preet Bharara:

You tried both of them. Why did you try them personally?

Doug Jones:

Well, because one, I’m an old trial lawyer. That’s what I do. And second of all, I think my history with the case and with one of the family members, the McNair family I’d known for many, many years, and I saw that that case had been opened right as my nomination was winding through. And you just get this sense sometimes that there is a purpose in what you’re doing.

Doug Jones:

I’d always wanted to be this US Attorney, but I couldn’t completely explain why. And then all of a sudden, this popped up, and you just felt like there was a purpose in doing this. And it was an amazing ride. I think the more significant for me emotionally was the Blanton, the first one. Once we got over that hump, it was incredible.

Preet Bharara:

How much pressure did you feel to be successful in a conviction in the Blanton case?

Doug Jones:

I felt a fair amount of pressure in the Blanton case because it was the first one, and I knew it will set the stage for the Cherry case. Cherry’s case was still iffy. So, there was a good bet, but you just have to put that aside. We knew it was the right thing to do, and to indict the cases. We had the evidence to do it. It was just a question of making sure we had a jury that would give us a fair shot. And we spent a lot of time on jury selection. And it paid off.

Preet Bharara:

In the Blanton case, the first trial where you ultimately got a conviction, how long was the jury out?

Doug Jones:

Jury was only out about two and a half hours.

Preet Bharara:

What were those two and a half hours like for you?

Doug Jones:

I was relaxed, I was satisfied. I felt like we tried a great case. I knew it was touch and go. Where it really got nervous for me was when we initially got word from the judge that he was going to let the jury go for the night, they were sequestered. And he was going to let them go for the night. He wanted us back in the courtroom, and I went back over there.

Doug Jones:

And as I’m walking in, I find out that I needed to get in there quickly. And my associate co-counsel said, “We’ve got a verdict.” I said, “No, we’re just leaving.” He said, “No, Doug, we’ve got a verdict.” Then I became really nervous for a quick verdict like that. I was really concerned.

Preet Bharara:

But a quick verdict means conviction, right?

Doug Jones:

It does. But I wasn’t thinking that way. Going into it, we felt like the case was strong enough that one of only two outcomes would be there. Either a conviction or a hung jury, and I was very worried about a hung jury. But a quick conviction, my mind just went completely the opposite. And I was a wreck.

Preet Bharara:

And what was that moment like when the foreperson revealed the verdict?

Doug Jones:

It was as emotional as you ever could get. And remember, we traveled under 1963 law. In 1963, the jury pronounced senates, as well as the verdict in Alabama. And so, she read four verdicts. And the first one was we the jury find Thomas Blanton guilty of murder in first degree and set punishment at life in prison.

Doug Jones:

By the time she read the fourth one, she could barely speak. It was just like, Blanton murder in the first, guilty murder in the first life. And that’s all she could get out because everybody was emotional, including everybody on the team.

Preet Bharara:

And family members of all the girls were in the courtroom?

Doug Jones:

Most of the family members were still there, not all of them. Mrs. Robertson was elderly, and she had going back home. Her daughter was there. The McNair family was there. It was a time of both relief and rejoicing.

Preet Bharara:

It’s a great achievement, and particularly so since you tried the cases personally.

Doug Jones:

Yeah.

Preet Bharara:

And justice delayed for a long time, but-

Doug Jones:

Not denied.

Preet Bharara:

… not denied. So, you had a very pure job delivering justice for the people of Alabama, and for that family, and a lot of other families as well. And then you decided some years later to get into politics, and it was successful. You’re in the Senate. How did you deal with a lot of the nonsense that politics requires?

Doug Jones:

Well, that’s an understatement, considering the race that I had, okay? I mean-

Preet Bharara:

You ran against a gentleman by the name of Roy Moore.

Doug Jones:

Yeah.

Preet Bharara:

There’s a lot of nonsense in that race.

Doug Jones:

There was a hell of a lot of nonsense in there.

Preet Bharara:

So, you had these experiences you’ve been describing, which are very moving and very substantive, trying a case and bringing justice to people long denied. And now, you have to deal with attacks, and lies, and I don’t know what the technical term is, crap.

Doug Jones:

Right.

Preet Bharara:

How did you put up with that?

Doug Jones:

I was asked the day after, a friend of mine in the media, interviewed me said, “What did you learn about yourself?” I said, “Well, I really learned that I had more discipline than what I thought. And I think there was that discipline from being a trial lawyer, and staying with your process, and staying with the things that you know you’ve got to do is exactly how we approach the campaign.

Doug Jones:

We knew there would be a lot of nonsense, we knew there would be a lot of attacks. We didn’t ever contemplate the level of crap, as you said, that hit in that race.

Preet Bharara:

It’s a legal term.

Doug Jones:

It’s a legal term. And staying disciplined, and focused on what we believe to be the core issues in the race, which was health care and jobs. I know that every candidate says that, every public official, but it was true, and we stayed, and we would always do it right.

Preet Bharara:

But didn’t you get mad when you’re attacked personally? Did you ever get mad or-

Doug Jones:

Oh, yeah, sure.

Preet Bharara:

And how did you handle that?

Doug Jones:

I stayed home, and I yelled at the dogs or something. I mean, it was one of those things you would get frustrated. I’m a type A guy, and I would pace around, and I would talk, and the staff and I would have certain really heavy conversations, and you want to strike back. We just really did not want to pull ourselves down to that level.

Preet Bharara:

Wouldn’t it have been easier you think if it was a regular election, and the country’s attention was divided among lots and lots of different races, because in your race, the whole country was watching?

Doug Jones:

Watching, yeah.

Preet Bharara:

Lots of people not from Alabama, was that disconcerting?

Doug Jones:

Well, yes and no. As it happened, yes. I mean, we knew that it would get a lot of attention, special election December 12. Not a day you normally have elections. As it turned out, we had no idea the attention that it would actually get, and that was a pretty heavy weight.

Doug Jones:

I mean, by the time we were finishing that race, there were too many people writing, calling, saying things that the hope of the country will rest on this race. Well, that was a little bit-

Preet Bharara:

That’s a lot of pressure.

Doug Jones:

… cross to bear that we… than we had planned on, but we still continued to stay focused. I think between myself, my wife, my team, we really did a wonderful job of focusing on where we were. Roy Moore was in hiding. He would not come out to talk to the media. We were out there every day. We would focus on our local folks.

Doug Jones:

Number one, the news, then we get with the national folks, and they’d always want to talk about what Trump tweeted out that day, or this allegation, or that. And I would give a very short answer, and move right back to the issue of the day that I was focusing on.

Preet Bharara:

You’re the first democrat elected to the Senate from Alabama in a lot of years. Are you a fish out of water? Is there a different metaphor that you use?

Doug Jones:

Yeah. No. I don’t think so. I mean, look, it’s a pretty big pond down in Alabama, and there’s a lot of fish down there. I mean, you got to remember, even though people define these states as red and blue now as if that was only voters in that state or that color, and that’s just not the case. I mean, the complete unknown who ran against my colleague, Senator Shelby, in 2016 got 740 something thousand votes.

Doug Jones:

Now, Shelby got over a million and won the race handedly. But there is a core support out there. I mean, this guy spent virtually no money. So, there is a basis for it. And I also thought, and I believe to this day, and I think it’s still happening around the country that people were yearning for a different voice in Alabama to come through, and someone with a platform that would be true to themselves and authentic.

Doug Jones:

To some extent, you don’t see that a lot. I haven’t seen it, I think throughout the South, where people tried to move to fit what they thought was they would follow their polls as opposed to follow their hearts. And we didn’t play that game. And there was a voice out there that I think people were excited about.

Doug Jones:

And I think even in Alabama, there was an energy that was captured that we saw in the women’s movement in January of 2017, as well as other places that we were able to capitalize on.

Preet Bharara:

How big attempt you think the Democratic Party can have and also, the Republican Party? There’s lots of analysis saying that the Democrats are being pulled left. And some people think the Republican Party is being pulled right. How much room is there for people of different kinds of views in any particular party?

Doug Jones:

I think there should be room for a number of different views in each party. I see the tent of the Democratic Party, even though it may be being pulled to the left, I still see the tent being larger than the tent in the Republican Party right now. I’ve always believed that the Democratic Party talks to everyday folks and working folks.

Doug Jones:

I think one of the problems is that we often didn’t listen enough, particularly in my neck of the woods. And in Alabama, and the South, and other places are very similar to certain areas in Ohio, and Michigan, and Wisconsin, and other places.

Doug Jones:

We have so much more in common than we have to divide us. We just let others define us more, and we haven’t listened to folks that I think have been the base of the party for so many years. I think we change that dynamic, and I’m hoping it’s going to across the country.

Preet Bharara:

Are voters angry?

Doug Jones:

I think they were angry at one time, and I think there’s still a base of voters out there that are angry. And I’m not sure they really understand or know why they’re angry. They’re just mad.

Preet Bharara:

They’re mad at people like your colleagues?

Doug Jones:

I think they’re mad at just everybody. And they see the president as somebody who is also mad, and they don’t see a lot happening, and they don’t see a lot of things getting done.

Preet Bharara:

So, they’re right to be mad.

Doug Jones:

I think that they are. I think they have a right to be mad. And I think some folks, especially in the south have got a right to be mad because they haven’t… they truly haven’t felt that people were listening to them. Democrats and others were talking about different things, and were trying to be very Republican-like, and they weren’t listening to the concerns. And I think they have a right to be mad at folks.

Preet Bharara:

So, how do you respond to that anger?

Doug Jones:

I think you listen. I think you get out there, you cannot be afraid to go out, and get into those areas that Democrats haven’t carried, and listen to folks, and talk to them. My whole campaign was based on having dialogues instead of monologues. And I think if you can go out there, and you can just sit across the table, like we’re doing right now in this studio.

Preet Bharara:

That’s very podcast of you.

Doug Jones:

Yeah. Very podcasting like, and just talk to people. I think that has an effect because I think people want to know they’re being heard. I think they want to know that they’re being listened to. Even though they know they’re not going to agree with someone all of the time, if they are comfortable with their public officials, I think that we can pull so many people back in.

Preet Bharara:

Do you agree with some of these analyses that have come out recently suggesting that a lot of people who support this president, whether they like everything he does or says or not, are still not being respected, and they’re being dismissed and not being listened to?

Doug Jones:

I’m not sure I completely agree with that. I think the time will tell as we go more toward the November elections. I think the first year of the Trump presidency was difficult for everybody to get used to. It was a sea change in the way the institutions of government are seen, how the people react to them, how the president reacts to them.

Doug Jones:

And I think we’re just now getting our sea legs so to speak in how we deal with all of that, as well as responding to the administration that you’re not sure exactly if you respond to what they say today, or tomorrow, or this hour, or the next hour. That’s been a difficult process.

Doug Jones:

And I think people now are beginning to think, and they’re looking to these elections, and they’re listening to people more, and they’re seeing what’s going on out there. I think that that’s coming. I think this has just been a difficult year because it has been just up ended government as we’ve known it for generations.

Preet Bharara:

I can’t believe we’re almost running out of time. We have so much more to talk about, and hopefully we can do this again.

Doug Jones:

Absolutely.

Preet Bharara:

This is a question of how you decide how to vote on a particular issue. So, this is a representative democracy.

Doug Jones:

Great question.

Preet Bharara:

You have your own conscience, and you’re sent to the Senate, as I understand it from civics, and from being a citizen in this country to vote on behalf of the people of Alabama. But you don’t take a referendum on every single right issue. So, how do you decide on a particular issue to vote the way if you were untethered to people how you would vote, versus what you think the majority of people in Alabama want?

Doug Jones:

Great question, and I think it’s a question that senators and representatives should struggle with all the time. And the way I approach it is that I tend to let my conscience be the guide. Because one of the things that I’ve talked to my staff about, and I don’t think that we do enough as public servants, is that we don’t reciprocate in the education process.

Doug Jones:

And we don’t always explain our votes, and we don’t always talk to people about the other side of issues. In today’s world of social media, in 32nd sound bites, in 24-hour news, it’s easy to develop an opinion very quickly. A tragedy happens, something happens, and people immediately take sides.

Doug Jones:

And I think part of my responsibility is also to explain, and to try to help educate people as I go with the votes that I know are coming up. It’s very difficult to do. Doing my homework, studying, really trying to understand as much of the facts and details as I can, which most of the public just doesn’t get. I mean, they don’t have the access to the information that I do.

Preet Bharara:

So, give us an example. Is there something that you had to vote on that was difficult so far and a struggle that maybe not everyone has understood?

Doug Jones:

Yes. THE Mike Pompeo vote is the most difficult. I’ve got another one coming up with Gina Haspel. That Pompeo vote was especially difficult for me because it was personally offensive to me and my family of the things he has said about the gay community. It was personally offensive to friends that I have in the Muslim community.

Doug Jones:

And those were Very, very concerning to me. However, after I met with him and discuss those issues headfirst, face-to-face, eye-to-eye I, I felt better about where he is. And I also felt better knowing that we really needed to have someone in the State Department. I mean, the Secretary of State is our chief diplomat.

Doug Jones:

He gave me assurances, and I felt good about the fact that he would not be as much of a war monger as people said, and my concern was, delaying this again after we’ve really effectively had no state department since President Trump took office.

Preet Bharara:

Rex Tillerson was not particularly competent-

Doug Jones:

Exactly. I mean, we effectively had no State Department. And the alternative if Mike Pompeo had not been confirmed, was that the President and John Bolton, who do not answer to Congress would be continuing to run our foreign affairs, and that troubled me a lot. So, it was a personally very, very difficult vote.

Doug Jones:

At the end of the day, I voted for confirmation. And I felt comfortable with myself. And I’ve explained that to a lot of folks in the Democratic Party in Alabama who are very upset with it. And I think at the end of the day, they understood, at least they did. Some people will never understand.

Preet Bharara:

Would it have made a difference in your vote on Pompeo if you had been potentially the deciding vote?

Doug Jones:

No.

Preet Bharara:

No?

Doug Jones:

No. I really was doing my homework. Read through the transcripts, I read through as much as I could, met with him, talked to others as well, got advice from a number of different people on both sides of the issue. And at the end of the day, it’s speculation, but I like to think it would not have made any difference to me.

Preet Bharara:

Here’s my last question to you. How do you think about the issue of Gina Haspel’s nomination to head the CIA and the issue of enhanced interrogation/torture?

Doug Jones:

It’s incredibly troubling. I mean, given the history that we just talked about Preet, I mean, with me, I’ve always been someone who has championed civil and human rights. I was on the board of, and president of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. I think that what happened in those days was horrible.

Doug Jones:

I think it hurt us a lot in our standing in the world. And it is particularly troubling. And it is one that we are meeting on. Right after I leave here, I’ve got one hearing to go to. And I’m going to spend an hour with my staff going through everything to make a decision on that. And yet, you contrast that with a woman number one, who I’m very proud of for the career that she’s had in the sense of moving up.

Doug Jones:

And the fact that this is the first woman named as potential Director of the CIA is something that also is big in her favor. She is incredibly qualified from a very technical aspect to take this job, probably as much as anybody that’s been there. But there are certain things about one’s past that can often disqualify you no matter what your other record will do. And that’s what I’m trying to weigh away right now. I’m now about to probably make my second most difficult decision, it may be even more difficult than the Pompeo vote.

Preet Bharara:

Senator Jones, separate and apart for whatever happens politically, I wish for you more Bon Jovi and more Springsteen concerts. Really appreciate you taking the time.

Doug Jones:

Hey, thank you, anytime. I enjoyed this very much.

STAY TUNED WITH PREET

STAY TUNED: Winning Alabama (with Senator Doug Jones)

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