RICHMOND, Va. - U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions told members of Virginia law enforcement about his goals to fight violent crime during a Wednesday morning meeting at the SunTrust Center in downtown Richmond. Representative from Virginia State Police, the Department of Corrections, and local police departments attended the event.
Sessions said while nationwide crime rates were at historic lows, there has recently been a spike in violent crime. A trend he called concerning.
"If we could stop this trend, how much better would it be for Richmond, for Baltimore, for Birmingham, for Mobile, that crime is not threatening people in their daily lives," Session said.
The Attorney General laid out several ways his Justice Department plans on slowing the uptick. One of the methods Sessions praised was a gun program that started in Richmond in 1997 that targeted felons. "Project Exile" hit felons who were arrested in the possession of a weapon with federal gun charges that carried a minimum sentence of five years in prison. Some experts credit the program with helping reduce Richmond's homicide race; however, critics said Project Exile disproportional targeted low income and minority communities.
"The right thing to do is target the criminal element who are using guns to extort, threaten, and even murder people," Session said in reference to the benefits of Project Exile.
Before he spoke, dozens of protesters gathered outside the building to speak out against the attorney general. Members of the Democratic Party of Virginia called on Sessions to resign.
The cited concern over Sessions' track record and argued he mislead the U.S. judiciary committee about meetings with a Russian ambassador prior to his appointment as attorney general.
"I'm here to show the attorney general that Richmond stands for things that he doesn't -- we stand for protecting immigrants, we stand for being a welcoming community, we stand for racial justice and social justice,” Richmond resident Katie Logan said.
Others state leaders said they were concerned that Sessions did not invite them to Wednesday’s event.
"Certainly Terry McAuliffe, Mark Herring and I have been doing this for four years. And to come into our backyard and not even invite us, not even let us know, I don’t think it’s a good vision," Virginia Lt. Governor Ralph Northam said.
Congressman Donald McEachin (D - Henrico) echoed Northam's concerns.
"He comes to Richmond for a press event, saying he wants to address violent crime here. But by not inviting the Commonwealth’s Secretary of Public Safety or Attorney General Herring, Sessions proved that he does not actually care about keeping our communities safe," Rep. McEachin said. "Instead of meeting with all relevant law enforcement experts and officials — instead of consulting with them about the circumstances here in Virginia — it appears that the Attorney General is on a partisan mission to deliver talking points that are not based on facts."
After his speech, Sessions met with law enforcement privately.
Sessions: I never gave Trump reason to believe Obama wiretapped him
Sessions said Wednesday he never gave President Donald Trump any reason to believe the GOP candidate had been wiretapped by the Obama administration during the campaign.
Asked by a reporter in Richmond if he ever briefed Trump on "investigations related to the campaign or did you ever give him any reason to believe that he was wiretapped by the previous administration," Sessions replied, "Look, the answer is no."
Sessions went on to reiterate that he has recused himself from any investigations involving the Trump campaign and transition and said he was not speaking with the President or the people who are investigating the case. He added that he was "unable to comment on any of these details."
The attorney general -- who was a top surrogate for Trump's campaign -- also defended meeting with the Russian ambassador to the US last year and reiterated his previous position that he was doing so in his capacity as a senator on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
"I never considered meeting with the Russian ambassador to be anything improper in any way," Sessions said. "We did not discuss politics or campaigns. He came in and we discussed issues like Ukraine and things of that nature."
Earlier this month, Trump alleged -- without providing evidence -- that President Barack Obama had his "wires tapped" at Trump Tower toward the end of his campaign.
Obama, through a spokesman, has denied the accusation and the White House appeared to walk back the allegation earlier this week when press secretary Sean Spicer said Trump was speaking broadly about surveillance of his campaign.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, a Republican, said Wednesday that neither he nor the ranking Democrat on the committee, Rep. Adam Schiff, have seen any evidence that Obama wiretapped Trump last year and want the Justice Department to respond to their requests for information by March 20.
"We don't have any evidence that that took place and, in fact, I don't believe -- just in the last week of time, the people we've talked to -- I don't think there was an actual tap of Trump Tower," Nunes said at a news conference on Capitol Hill.
FBI Director James Comey will testify at a March 20 hearing and there will be a second hearing in the committee March 28.
Also Wednesday, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, said on CNN's "New Day" that he'll subpoena information from the FBI over the wiretapping allegations if Comey does not provide information about whether there is any validity to the claims.
One-on-One with CBS 6 News
Following Sessions' remarks, CBS 6 reporter Jake Burns sat down for a one-on-one interview with the Attorney General. Although the conversation was brief, Burns asked Sessions about his Senate testimony regarding contact with Russian officials, the Trump Administration's revised travel ban, and the case of Gavin Grimm, the transgender teen from Gloucester County, VA, who's case was dealt a blow by Sessions' Justice Department earlier this year when Obama era Title XI guidelines were revoked.
You can watch the raw footage of the interview on Burns' Facebook page.
The CNN Wire contributed to this report.