Gates had been wrongfully arrested by a Cambridge, Massachusetts, police officer in 2009 as he tried to enter his own home. After the incident, then-President Barack Obama invited Gates and the arresting officer to the White House for a "beer summit."
Sessions appeared to cite that meeting as a reason that morale among law enforcement had dropped during Obama's presidency.
"The police had been demoralized. There was all the Obama -- there's a riot, and he has a beer at the White House with some criminal, to listen to him," Sessions said, appearing to refer to the 2009 meeting. "Wasn't having a beer with the police officers. So we said, 'We're on your side. We've got your back, you got our thanks.' "
While Sessions said Obama didn't have a beer with "the police officers," Sgt. Joe Crowley of the Cambridge Police Department -- the arresting officer in the incident -- did join Gates, Obama and then-Vice President Joe Biden for a beer at the White House during the summit.
Sessions' campaign did not immediately respond to CNN's request for comment. The New York Times Magazine asked Sessions' campaign to clarify what he meant by the comment but the campaign declined.
The remark comes amid widespread conversations about systemic racism following the police killing of George Floyd.
Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, died on May 25 in Minneapolis while being arrested.
Gates' arrest in 2009 had sparked national conversations over racial profiling and police procedures.
Recalling his arrest to The 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 continued. "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 is locked in a close race for his old seat with former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville. The Republican runoff primary election is on July 14.
Sessions was a senator from Alabama for two decades before he gave up what was widely seen as a safe seat to become President Donald Trump's attorney general. Sessions recused himself within three weeks of being sworn in from the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, and Trump has never forgiven him for it.
Trump fired Sessions in 2018 after months of publicly shaming him.
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