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DOJ Drops Case Against Woman Who Laughed During Sessions Hearing

The government has dropped its case against Desiree Fairooz (center), who laughed out loud during Jeff Sessions' confirmation hearing in January.
Kevin Lamarque
The government has dropped its case against Desiree Fairooz (center), who laughed out loud during Jeff Sessions' confirmation hearing in January.

The government is dropping its case against the woman who laughed out loud during Attorney General Jeff Sessions' confirmation hearing in January.

Desiree Fairooz is an activist with the anti-war organization Code Pink. She said her laugh was involuntary, spurred by Sen. Richard Shelby's statement that Sessions' "extensive record of treating all Americans equally under the law is clear and well-documented."

"I let out an involuntary laugh, or more of a chortle of disdain," Fairooz told WAMU. "We were not warned not to laugh." Fairooz, a retired children's librarian, was with five other activists — all dressed in pink Lady Liberty costumes — during the attorney general's confirmation hearing.

She was charged with two misdemeanors: disrupting Congress and unlawful demonstration on Capitol grounds. Each charge carries up to six months in prison and a potential fine.

In July, a judge threw out her conviction and called for a new trial. In September, Fairooz rejected a plea deal. The new trial had been set to begin next week.

"Just received this, 'Governments Notice of Nolle Prosequi' What a relief! Guess they've got enough 'laughing' matters to deal with!" Fairooz tweeted Monday.

A spokesman for U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia, Bill Miller, confirmed to NPR that it had filed a notice on Monday dismissing the case.

"The U.S. Attorney's Office typically does not discuss charging decisions, and has no comment on the decision to dismiss this particular case," he wrote in an email.

Since the charge was filed in January, the case has generated 84 docket entries — or more than seven each month — in the court's online record system.

Code Pink said it celebrated the decision to drop the charges, calling the arrest of Fairooz "absurd."

"The prosecution of Desiree, including one jury trial, was a waste of time and tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars," the organization said in a statement. "It was part the larger effort currently being made to crack down on activists. From the January 20th inauguration protests, the Department of Justice is prosecuting 200 people on multiple felony charges. We hope they will scale back this massive overreach and that the success we just saw in Desiree's case will encourage more people to protest in the halls of congress and on the streets."

In a statement to CNN, Fairooz's attorney said his client is "relieved and happy" about the outcome.

"Yesterday the government dismissed the case for reasons I can only speculate about. And which I may never fully know (though I have various theories)," said Samuel Bogash. "Though as her lawyer I would have preferred a 'not guilty' at the first trial, I'm happy for Ms. Fairooz."

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Laurel Wamsley is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She reports breaking news for NPR's digital coverage, newscasts, and news magazines, as well as occasional features. She was also the lead reporter for NPR's coverage of the 2019 Women's World Cup in France.