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Virginia Car Attack Possible 'Hate Crime,' Sessions Says

by Pete Williams /
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions pauses during an event at the Justice Department Aug. 4, 2017 in Washington, DC.Alex Wong / Getty Images

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions told NBC News in an exclusive interview on Wednesday that federal authorities are in no rush to file charges in a deadly Charlottesville car attack and that it's still not clear what those charges might be.

"It very well could be a civil rights violation or a hate crime, and there might be other charges that could be brought," Sessions said during an interview at the Justice Department. "So we are working it intensely on the assumption we may well might want to prosecute him. We're also working with the state and local authorities that clearly have jurisdiction, too. And often they're the ones that have the best charges."

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Sessions said no decisions have been made about whether the driver, James Alex Fields Jr., 20, of Ohio, would be tried in state or federal court.

Authorities took Fields taken into custody after he allegedly drove his car into a group of counter-protesters. Heather Heyer, 32, was killed and at least 19 other people were injured during the tumultuous weekend clash between white nationalists and anti-racism protesters.

"We'll work with the state and locals and then decide, in a collaborative way, to see what the best charges will be. One of the worst things you can do is get into some sort of fight over jurisdiction and try to snatch a case from another jurisdiction. The right and professional thing to do is work together and to make an honest and objective decision about whether the right place is to bring the case."

As for how soon the federal government might file charges, "I don't feel like we should feel like we have to do it in a matter of hours or even days," in part because the investigation is ongoing.

Asked whether it appears the attack was pre-planned, he said "I'm not able to comment on that. We'll have to bring those facts out at the appropriate time."

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