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Sessions Dismisses Racism Claim, Hints at What Trump DOJ Might Look Like


NewsHubDonald Trump’s pick to be the next U. S. attorney general vehemently disputed “amazing” allegations that he harbors racial bias, insisting to a Senate panel today that decades-old accusations suggesting he supported the Ku Klux Klan are absolutely false and that the nation “can never go back” to its dark days of legal discrimination.
“I abhor the Klan and what it represents and its hateful ideology,” Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., told the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is holding confirmation hearings this week to consider his nomination to lead the Justice Department.
He walked into the Senate hearing room this morning to shouting from some protesters dressed in Ku Klux Klan costumes and others holding signs saying, “Stand against xenophobia” and “Love trumps hate. ” Sessions seemed unfazed, and many in the room cheered as the protesters were removed. His testimony was interrupted by other protesters several times today. At least two other people interrupted his opening remarks, one shouting, “No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA. “
In his statement to the committee this morning, he vowed to tell Trump “no” when necessary. Sessions defended law enforcement officers across the country who have been “unfairly maligned” in recent years, and he insisted he understands the struggle for justice by “our African-American brothers and sisters” and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
Hours into today’s hearing, he faced tough questions over his record on civil rights and his plan for cooling tensions between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve.
Sessions, 70, has faced significant criticism from top Democrats and some civil rights groups over decades-old allegations that he made racist remarks when he was a U. S. attorney in Alabama. Today he dismissed the allegations as outright false or taken out of context.
“I hope my tenure in this body shows you that the caricature of me wasn’t accurate,” Sessions told senators. “It wasn’t accurate then, and it’s not accurate now. “
The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said Sessions’ 20 years in the Senate mean “we know him well. “
“He is a man of honor and integrity, dedicated to the faithful and fair enforcement of the law, who knows well and deeply respects the Department of Justice and its role,” Grassley said in his opening remarks, noting that as U. S. attorney in Alabama during the 1980s, Sessions “oversaw the investigation of Klansman Francis Hays for the brutal abduction and murder of a black teenager, Michael Donald. “
During what may have been the most uncomfortable moments for Sessions during the first half of the day, Al Franken, D-Minn., pressed Sessions on whether he has “misrepresented” or “inflated” his role in prosecuting civil rights cases and standing up for minorities when U. S. attorney. In particular, Franken took aim at Sessions’ claim that he “personally handled” several cases, suggesting the extent of his involvement in those cases may have been just signing charging documents.
Sessions fired back, saying he not only signed the documents but also “provided assistance and guidance” to attorneys working on the cases and “attempted to be as effective as I could be in helping them be successful in these historic cases. “
He added that he “had an open door policy with them and cooperated with them on these cases. “
Sessions said in his opening remarks, “I understand the demands for justice and fairness made by the LGBT community. “
But the top Democrat on the committee, Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., called Sessions’ record “extremely conservative” and emphasized that the next attorney general must enforce the law “equally for all Americans,” not advocate for his own beliefs.
She noted that he has taken what she called “deeply concerning” stances, including support for keeping people out of the United States based on their religion, support for “illegal” waterboarding of terrorism suspects and opposition to LGBT rights legislation.
Other critics have also pointed to Sessions’ dismay at the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry and his opposition to the Matthew Shepard Act, which expanded the definition of hate crimes to include attacks on people because of their sexual orientation, gender or disability.
Asked during today’s hearing whether he believes the issue of same-sex marriage is settled — now that the Supreme Court has ruled that gay and lesbian couples may marry nationwide — Sessions said he will “follow that decision. ” He explained that he opposed the Matthew Shepard Act out of “a concern that it appeared that these cases were being prosecuted effectively in state court” but said that since it has become law and “the Congress has spoken, you can be sure that I will enforce it. “
During her opening remarks, Feinstein cited Trump’s promise on the campaign trail that his attorney general would appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Hillary Clinton.
“That’s not what an attorney general does,” Feinstein said. “The attorney general does not investigate or prosecute at the direction of the president. “
Sessions vowed today that as attorney general, he would recuse himself from any matters related to Clinton.
On the campaign trail, he spoke out against Clinton over her use of a private email server as secretary of state, which became the subject of an FBI criminal investigation.
Sessions noted that the presidential campaign was “contentious” and that he made several comments about Clinton’s possible criminal culpability.
“I do believe that could place my objectivity in question … I think the proper thing would be to recuse myself,” he told the other senators.
Much of Sessions’ opening remarks today focused on the “heroin epidemic” across America and the jump in violent crime in certain U. S. cities, including a record-setting number of murders and shootings in Chicago last year.
“These trends cannot continue,” he said. “It is a fundamental civil right to be safe in your home and your community… It will be my priority to confront these crises vigorously, effectively and immediately. “
Sessions vowed to support state and local law enforcement across the country, calling recent attacks on police in the line of duty “a wake-up call” and recognizing the officers killed in the line of duty in Florida Monday. The alleged murderer of one officer is still the target of an extensive manhunt.
“That is the kind of thing that too often happens,” he said, adding that “there is virtually no defense” for assaulting a police officer and that recent criticism of law enforcement is making matters worse.
“In the last several years, law enforcement as a whole has been unfairly maligned and blamed for the actions of a few bad actors and for allegations about police that were not true,” he said. “I do believe that we are failing to appreciate police officers who place their lives at risk… We need to be sure that when we criticize law officers, it is narrowly focused on the right basis for criticism.

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