Sessions grilled on his immigration, race views at AG nomination hearing
While Trump himself will take the oath of office on January 20, the transition team has fast-tracked the confirmation hearings. Many of his Cabinet choices have been shrouded in controversy as some are from wealthy business backgrounds and have complex financial histories.
“Senator Sessions’ record is a life of public service,” Senator Chuck Grassley (R, Iowa) chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee at the opening of Session’s nomination hearing for Attorney General on Tuesday.
Sessions has, however, been subject to a number of controversies regarding his comments about race.
At a 1986 confirmation for a federal judgeship, a black jurist testified that Sessions had called the Ku Klux Klan “okay until I found out they smoked pot.”
Sessions later said the comment was made in jest and apologized for it, saying he considered the Klan “a force for hatred and bigotry.”
The start of Tuesday’s confirmation hearing was interrupted by protesters in KKK costumes.
Members of Code Pink wearing Lady Liberty outfits also protested the hearing with signs reading 'End Racism, Stop Sessions' and 'Hate Sessions.'
Ranking Member, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D, California) critical of Sessions said he voted for water boarding and voted against hate crimes law.
Feinstein said Sessions said at the time of the vote about the hate crimes law ‘today I am not sure women or people with different sexual orientation faced that kind of discrimination,' quoted Feinstein.
She added “Hate crimes are happening, the Dept. of Justice must see it.”
Just before Sessions began testimony he was interrupted by several protesters, shouting ‘No Trump, No KKK, No Fascist USA!’; three people were escorted from the hearing.
“You know who I am, you know what I believe…and can be trusted to do what I say what I will do,” said Senator Jeff Sessions (R, Alabama) in his opening statement.
Sessions said in his 14 years with the Department Justice, he oversaw prosecutions in drugs cases, violent crimes, a series of public corruption cases, and important civil rights cases.
Sessions said he supported community-based policing.
“I am committed to this effort for improving the relations between the police and the communities they serve,” said Sessions. He said positive relations and great communications between police and communities are necessary and police should be held accountable.
If confirmed Sessions said he would protect “the people from the scourge of radical terrorism,” by “using all lawful means to keep our country safe.”
The Alabama senator said the office of attorney general "is not a political position" and anyone who holds it must be faithful to laws and the Constitution.
Session said he understands the history of civil rights "and the horrendous impact that relentless and systemic discrimination and the denial of voting rights has had on our African-American brothers and sisters."
During questioning, Senator Grassley asked about Sessions about statements he made criticizing Hillary Clinton during the campaign.
“It was a highly contentious campaign. With regard to Hillary Clinton I do believe could place my objectivity in question. The proper things would be to recuse myself,” said Sessions.
Grassely confirmed that Sessions would recuse himself if the Justice Department were to decide the prosecute over the Clinton emails and Clinton Foundation, if they are cause to do so.
Senator Jeff Sessions told Senator Feinstein when asked about whether he would follow the protections for women under Roe v. Wade, “I believe it violated the Constitution…it is the law of the land." Sessions said he would respect the provisions of the law and follow the law.
Sessions was first elected to the Senate in 1996 and before that served as state attorney general and a United States attorney. A reliably conservative voice in Congress, he has supported government surveillance programs, objecting to the proposed closure of the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility and opposing a 2013 bipartisan immigration bill that included a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the US illegally.
Senator Sessions said if elected to attorney general, the Department of Justice would have no objection to abandoning the Obama executive order under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which allowed certain undocumented immigrants in the US to been deferred from deportation.
Sessions said however that "fundamentally we need to fix the immigration system."
When asked by Senator Lindsey Graham (R, South Carolina) asked about what he thought about accusations that Sessions was a racist.
“It does not feel good,” said Sessions.
That prompted more outbursts in the hearing, and police escorted two more people out.
“As a southerner that saw discrimination and had no doubt that it existed in a systematic way, I know that was wrong,” said Session. “I know we can do better. We can never go back. I will assure that is how I will approach it.”
Senator Al Franken (D, Minnesota) asked Sessions to confirm the validity of his record when he took credit for civil rights cases over desegregating schools and for voting rights cases.
Franken referred to a quote in 2009 where Sessions said he filed ‘20 or 30 civil rights cases to desegregate schools.’
Later Sessions modified the quote to refer to ‘number of desegregation cases.’
Franken said Sessions was asked to submit a list of ten most significant cases that he personally handed.
Franken said lawyers in an op-ed said two or three voting rights cases Sessions had no role.
Senator Patrick Leahy asked Sessions about a 2005 video in which Donald Trump bragged about using his fame to force himself on women.
“Is grabbing a woman by her genitals without her consent sexual assault?” Senator Leahy asked Sessions.
Sessions replied “Clearly it is.”
On Wednesday, hearings will be held for Trump's picks for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, and transportation secretary, Elaine Chao. Also, a second day of hearings is planned for Sessions.
Senate colleague Cory Booker (D, New Jersey), one of three black senators, is to testify against Sessions on Wednesday.
Booker's office said it will be an unprecedented instance of a senator testifying against a colleague seeking a Cabinet post.