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Sessions says he’d be fair as attorney general, defy Trump if necessary

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    CodePink activists, including co-founder Medea Benjamin, right, held up signs against Attorney General-designate, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., on Capitol Hill in Washington, today, as he testified at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Attorney General-designate, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. was sworn in on Capitol Hill in Washington, today, prior to testifying at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Attorney General nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., on Capitol Hill, Nov. 20, in Washington. Sessions is set to be questioned by his peers at a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Jan. 10.

WASHINGTON >> Sen. Jeff Sessions cast himself as a strong protector of law and order at his confirmation hearing today, promising that as attorney general he would crack down on illegal immigration, gun violence and the “scourge of radical Islamic terrorism.”

Sessions, echoing rhetoric used on the campaign trail by President-elect Donald Trump, warned of a country struggling to combat illegal drugs flooding across the border, spikes in violent crime in American cities and low morale among police.

“These trends cannot continue. It is a fundamental civil right to be safe in your home and your community,” the Alabama Republican said in laying out conservative priorities for the Justice Department at the opening of his Senate hearing.

Politics got its share of attention, too, with Sessions promising to recuse himself from any investigation there might be into Democrat Hillary Clinton, because of comments he’d made during the campaign. Trump said previously that he would name a special prosecutor to look into Clinton’s use of a private email server, but has since backed away. The FBI and Justice Department declined to bring charges last year.

Sessions has solid support from the Senate’s Republican majority, but faces a challenge persuading skeptical Democrats that he’ll be fair and committed to civil rights as the country’s top law enforcement official. Sen. Dianne Feinstein hinted at those concerns, saying “there is so much fear in this country” particularly among blacks.

Sessions, whose 1986 judicial nomination was derailed by allegations of racially charged comments, sought to confront that concern by saying 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. I have witnessed it.”

“The office of the attorney general of the United States is not a political position, and anyone who holds it must have total fidelity to the laws and the Constitution of the United States,” he said.

At several points, anti-Sessions protesters disrupted the hearing. They were quickly escorted out.

Sessions smiled amiably as he began his presentation, taking time to introduce his grandchildren, joking about Alabama football and making self-deprecating remarks about his strong Southern accent.

In a more serious vein, he was asked by committee chairman Chuck Grassley if he could stand up to Trump if he disagreed with the president-elect’s actions. Yes, he said, adding that he would be prepared to resign if asked to do something that was “plainly unlawful.”

Democrats were using part of the two days of hearings to challenge Sessions’ commitment to civil rights, a chief priority of the Justice Department during the Obama administration. They were also likely to press him on his hard-line stance on immigration policy.

But Republicans have expressed strong support and are expected to secure more than enough votes needed to confirm him, including from some Democrats in conservative-leaning states.

Sessions is known as one of the most staunchly conservative members of the Senate, and has already drawn opposition from at least two Democratic colleagues, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown.

In a dramatic turn, Booker — one of three black senators — said he will testify against Sessions on Wednesday, in what his office called an unprecedented instance in which a senator has testified against a colleague seeking a Cabinet post. In a statement, Booker accused Sessions of having a “concerning” record on civil rights and criminal justice reform and called his decision “a call to conscience.”

If confirmed, the four-term senator would succeed Attorney General Loretta Lynch and would be in a position to reshape Justice Department priorities in the areas of civil rights, environmental enforcement and criminal justice.

Sessions was first elected to the Senate in 1996 and before that served as state attorney general and a United States attorney. He’s been a reliably conservative voice in Congress, supporting 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 U.S. illegally.

He is trying to turn the page from a confirmation hearing in 1986, when his nomination for a federal judgeship failed amid accusations he had made racially insensitive comments as a prosecutor.

Civil rights advocates have rallied against his nomination, with protesters staging a sit-in last week at a Sessions office in Alabama and circulating letters opposed to his nomination. Advocacy groups have drawn attention to Sessions positions they suggest could weaken legal protections for immigrants, minority voters and gays, lesbians and transgender people.

Sessions’ supporters have pointed to bipartisan work in the Senate and to supportive statements from some Democrats and even the son of a civil rights activist whom Sessions unsuccessfully prosecuted for voter fraud in Alabama. One of the two senators introducing him at today’s hearing was a moderate Republican, Susan Collins of Maine, suggesting a concerted effort to try to cement his appeal beyond the more conservative members.

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  • I hope he cracks down on toddlers with handguns. Americans are statistically more likely to be killed in America by a toddler with a gun than by a radical islamic terrorist.

  • Senator Sessions is a sycophant who would no sooner defy Donald Trump than he would flap his arms and fly to the moon. He’s going to do anything that Mr. Trump tells him to do.

    The good news is that the ACLU has now assembled an army of volunteer lawyers, including from some of the top law firms in the world, who will fight him at every unconstitutional move he makes.

    • Agree with Klastri. Trump would never have appointed a man who would use the constitution to oppose him. He wants a complaint ethically challenged man from the “Old South.” All citizens need to be on their toes with Trump and protect their constitutional rights. Trump lies repeatedly.

      • Jeff Sessions, Donald Trump’s pick for attorney general, directly addressed allegations of racism that have dogged him for three decades — defiantly declaring those accusations “damnably false charges.”

        Deviating from his prepared remarks, Sessions addressed the allegations that sank his bid for the federal judiciary in 1986 — accusations that ran the gamut from making racially improper comments to not protecting voting accessibility for black voters in a high profile voter fraud case. He was also accused of being sympathetic to the Ku Klux Klan.

        “These are damnably false charges,” Sessions told the Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. “The voter fraud case my office prosecuted as in response to pleas from African-American, incumbent elected officials.”

        Noting that he prosecuted a KKK member who murdered a black teenager, Sessions added: “I abhor the Klan and what it represents and its hateful ideology.” In later questioning, Sessions addressed the racism allegations again.

        “The caricature of me in 1986 was not correct,” Sessions said, his voice rising. “I do not harbor the kind of animosity and race-based discrimination ideas that I was accused of. I did not.”

        • I evaluate him by the way he prosecuted cases. The stench of racism was created entirely by Mr. Sessions’s own actions.

  • What a team! The first President to brag about committing sexual assault and the first Attorney General nominee to defend a Presidential candidate’s boasts about committing sexual assault.

  • Shhhhh!! You hear that?

    WAAAAAAAAHHHH!!! WAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!! RACIST!! HATE-MONGER!! RECOUNT!! YES WE CAN!! RIGGED ELECTION!!! NO WAR FOR OIL, BRO!! I’M GONNA GO BURN ANOTHER FLAG!!!! WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHH!!!!

    And the epic meltdown of infantile, inept, distraught and defeated liberals, sobbing in their soy-milk Kashi cereal bowls continues. It’s going to be an awesome new year.

    • Yes it will be. Sadly the country will have to go through another destructive phase as Voodoo takes over the country. Lets have tax cuts for the rich and lets increase drastically wasteful government spending that will not accomplish anything. Lets get the budget deficit back up over a trillion.

      The new swamp is just wonderful. So much different from the old swamp. How many people are now from wall st.? Enjoy gullible republicans as the economy comes crashing down like it did under GW.

    • YYAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH,YYYEEEEAAAHHHHH! 24/7 Circus Show, All Day folks,everyday..yyyyeeeeaaaahhhhhhh. YEEHAW…while the circus is going the clowns are stealing. Folks, nothing will get done. Trumpf,the Greatest Show on Earth, will get zero done. All challenges from his picks to his foreign business interest,to the kids conflicts,the pending lawsuits,the upcoming conflicts. Hey when is the press briefing on how he will absolve himself of all the$e intere$t$?

    • Yes, we have to go thru another Republican Presidency. Reagan spent so much on the military that it left the country with huge deficits. Then corrupt Nixon was forced out. The George Bush, unconcerned about the intelligence he was getting gave us 911, Weapons of Mass destruction and the Iraq war, and 2007 & 2008 the financial crisis and the start of the Great Recession. These Republicans have very short memories.

    • No he doesn’t. This is the Trump administration where they don’t have to do anything just because everyone in the past did it. This is going to be the most corrupt administration in history. Be proud republicans. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

        • It’s happening now! Trump and his loyalist advisers communicating and colluding with Russian agents all during the presidential campaign. Puti has a lot of damaging personal and financial information about Trump, and will release it if Trump disobeys him.

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