Attorney General Jeff Sessions repeated the phrase “lock her up” during a speech to conservative high school students on Tuesday, chuckling as the crowd began a chant that Trump supporters used during the 2016 campaign to call for jailing Hillary Clinton.
Mr. Sessions, the country’s top law enforcement official, was speaking at a four-day conference hosted by the conservative organization Turning Point USA and attended by several hundred right-leaning high school students in Washington. In his speech, he sharply criticized American universities, saying they were coddling students and creating a “generation of sanctimonious, sensitive, supercilious snowflakes.”
When members of the audience began chanting “lock her up,” a common refrain at Trump rallies after the Republican candidate pledged to enlist a special prosecutor to investigate Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Sessions briefly strayed from his prepared remarks.
“Lock her up,” he said, laughing. “I heard that a long time over the last campaign.”
After pressure from President Trump, Mr. Sessions ordered senior prosecutors last year to evaluate various accusations against Mrs. Clinton and consider whether a special counsel should be appointed. Mr. Trump had asked on Twitter earlier that year why his “beleaguered A.G.” was not looking into “Crooked Hillarys crimes & Russia relations.” No such special counsel has been appointed.
Law enforcement officials are expected to maintain political objectivity with regard to issues that could be investigated by agencies under their purview.
Last year, Mr. Sessions recused himself from any investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election because of his contacts with the Russian ambassador to the United States. That decision led Mr. Trump to berate Mr. Sessions and urge him to reverse his decision, which he declined to do, casting a shadow on their relationship.
In his speech on Tuesday, Mr. Sessions tore into American universities as being “complicit” in an effort to prevent engagement with alternative viewpoints by employing strategies like “trigger warnings,” which are used to warn an audience of potentially traumatic subject matter.
“They have cry closets, safe spaces, optional exams, therapy goats and grade inflation,” he said. “Too many schools are coddling young people and actively preventing them from scrutinizing the validity of their beliefs and the issue of the day.”
He mocked several specific events at universities after Mr. Trump’s victory in the 2016 election, including a “cry-in” at Cornell University and an opportunity to use Play-Doh and coloring books at the University of Michigan.
Mary Sue Coleman, the president of the Association of American Universities, said on Tuesday that Mr. Sessions’s comments were a “gross misinterpretation” of how colleges and universities treat their students. Ms. Coleman, a former president of the University of Michigan, said that universities did try to provide support services to students — including those with mental health problems — but that those resources were far from excessive.
“I don’t think they’re coddled. I don’t think they’re given undue access to support services,” she said. “The idea that we’re someone protecting them from any idea that may be controversial is a total mischaracterization.”
Other high-profile speakers at the Turning Point USA conference include Nikki R. Haley, the United States’ ambassador to the United Nations; Education Secretary Betsy DeVos; and Donald Trump Jr.