Former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who is running for his old Alabama candidate seat in the U.S. Senate, referred to Henry Louis Gates Jr., a prominent African American Harvard professor, as “some criminal” in an interview published by The New York Times Magazine Tuesday.

In July 2009, a Cambridge, Massachusetts, police officer wrongfully arrested Gates for disorderly conduct as he attempted to enter his own home.

At the time, the arrest incited widespread condemnation against the Cambridge Police Department (CPD), which prompted then-President Barack Obama to call the arrest “stupid,” which sparked another controversy. Obama invite Gates, along with the arresting officer, Sgt. James Crowley to the White House for a “beer summit.”

Sessions, who faces a tough primary contest to return to his U.S. Senate post on July 14, claimed that the incident had been a result of Obama-era police form regulation, undertaken by the Justice Department.

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“The police had been demoralized. There was all the Obama — there is a riot, and he has a beer at the White House with some criminal, to listen to him… Was not having a beer with the police officers. So we said, ‘We are on your side. We have got your back, you got our thanks,’ ” Sessions said, inaccurately stating that the officer was not invited to the 2009 White House event.

The 2009 wrongful arrest of Gates had sparked widespread debate over racial profiling and arrest procedures by law enforcement.

In July 2009, a woman called the CPD when she saw Gates and his driver trying to force open Gates’ jammed front door after coming home from a trip. Crowley, the officer, arrested Gates for disorderly conduct. The charges were dropped within a week, and the DA’s office and the City of Cambridge released a joint statement with Gates calling the incident “regrettable and unfortunate.”

Recalling his arrest to The New York Times earlier this year, Gates said, “President Obama made an innocent comment that the arrest was stupid, which it was. Then all of a sudden, all these racists are beating up on him. My whole attitude was channeled through the desire to protect our first black president.”

“But there was another motivation,” he added, “I thought that it would be hubristic and dishonest if I compared what happened to me to what happens to black people in the inner city.”

Sessions’ remains locked in a close race for his old Alabama U.S. Senate seat with former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville.

Sessions represented Alabama in the U.S. Senate for around two decades before becoming President Donald Trump‘s attorney general. 

The former senator recused himself within three weeks of being sworn into the 2016 Russian election meddling probe.

Trump sacked Sessions in 2018 after he publicly belittled him for months.

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