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Sessions: Racism allegations ‘damnably false charges’

Racial issues were raised even before the hearing started.

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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.

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“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.”

In response to some of the first questions of the hearing, Sessions also made a surprise announcement: declaring that he will recuse himself from all issues related to the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email account. He said his rhetoric on the issue during the campaign could lead people to doubt he’d be fair in considering the matter.

“I do believe that that could place my objectivity in question… I believe the proper thing for me to do would be for me to recuse myself from any questions regarding those kinds of investigations regarding Secretary Clinton that were raised during the campaign,” Sessions said.

The attorney general pick also appeared to offer an implicit rebuke to President-elect Donald Trump, who declared during a debate that he would instruct his attorney general to appoint a special prosecutor who would put Clinton “in jail” over her handling of the email matter. Sessions said, in essence, that he would not accept such an instruction and would instead formally recuse himself.

Sessions: Racism allegations 'damnably false charges'

“I believe that would be the best approach for the country because we can never have a political dispute turn into a criminal dispute,” Sessions said. “This country does not punish its political enemies. What this country ensures is that no one is above the law.”

And Sessions, despite his staunchly conservative views on abortion and gay marriage, testified before the committee that the Supreme Court has ruled on those issues and that he will “follow” those decisions. On immigration, Sessions said he has “no objection” to abandoning President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration because “it is very questionable in my opinion, constitutionally.” But he declined to spell out what specifically the Trump administration plans to do with the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or what he would do with the 740,000 so-called Dreamers who’ve gotten work permits under DACA.

Sessions also said he does not favor banning Muslim immigrants from the U.S., as Trump initially proposed.

“I believe the president-elect subsequent to that statement made clear he believes the focus should be on individuals coming from countries that have a history of terrorism,” the Alabama senator said.

Sessions said that when he voted against a 2015 Senate resolution urging no religious test in the immigration process, he was concerned the measure suggested that one’s religious views could never be taken into account by the government, no matter how radical those views.

“I hope we can keep people out of the country who wants to kill everybody because of their religion,” Sessions said, while making clear he does not believe most Muslims hold such views.

In another departure from the president-elect’s public comments, Sessions said he’s inclined to trust the FBI’s conclusion that the Russian government carried out a hacking campaign aimed at interfering with the recent U.S. presidential election.

“I’m sure it was honorably reached,” Sessions said of the FBI’s finding, while noting that he has not been briefed by the FBI on the subject.

Under questioning by Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who is one of the most outspoken Republican lawmakers on the issue, Sessions said he sees such hacking episode as disturbing. However, Sessions linked it to alleged hacking of the U.S. Government by China and others.

“I think it’s a significant event,” Sessions said. “We have penetration apparently throughout our government apparently by foreign entities.” He also called for “developing some protocols which when people breach our systems a real price is paid even if we can’t prove the exact person who did it.”

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He had come before before the Senate Judiciary Committee for his confirmation hearing Tuesday with a simple message to his fellow senators: You know me. His prepared remarks touched on a litany of policy issues in the purview of the Justice Department — voting accessibility, police-community relations, war on terror, even gay rights. But his message, at its core, is one that emphasizes his deep ties with senators.

“You know who I am. You know what I believe in. You know that I am a man of my word and can be trusted to do what I say I will do,” Sessions told senators. “You know that I revere our Constitution and am committed to the rule of law. And you know that I believe in fairness, impartiality and equal justice under the law.”

Underscoring his lengthy history and deep familiarity with the Justice Department, Sessions emphasized ill emphasize the broad array of crimes he targeted in more than a dozen years as a federal prosecutor.

Even before the hearing began, the racial issues were dramatically brought to the fore. A few minutes before the session kicked off, a pair of protesters from the liberal group Code Pink donned Ku Klux Klan attire and began shouting at Sessions.

“Jefferson Beauregard, here we are. We’re here for you,” one protester said. “You’re the man. You’re the man that’s going to bring the whiteness back to the South.”

Those demonstrators were quickly escorted out by Capitol Police who flanked both sides of the public area of the spectators’ gallery, although many who didn’t join in the early protest remained seated in that section.

In her opening remarks, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the committee, acknowledged that her and other Democrats’ personal relationships with Sessions “makes this very difficult for me.” But she also spoke of “so much fear in this country,” especially in black communities, and noted that Sessions has pushed an “extremely conservative” agenda on issues such as immigration a religious freedom.

“There is a deep fear about what a Trump administration will bring in many places and this is the context in which we must consider Senator Sessions’ record and nomination to become the chief law enforcement [official] of America,” Feinstein said. “Communities across this country are concerned about whether they will be able to rely on the Department of Justice to protect their rights and freedoms.”

Sessions is also expected to head off criticism from Democrats Tuesday by stressing that attorneys general must retain an air of political independence, even from the president who nominates them in the first place.

“He or she must be willing to tell the president ‘no’ if he overreaches. He or she cannot be a mere rubberstamp to any idea the president has,” Sessions said. “He or she also must set the example for the employees in the department to do the right thing and ensure that they know the Attorney General will back them up, no matter what politician might call, or what powerful special interest, influential contributor, or friend might try to intervene.”

If he becomes the attorney general, “that is the way I will run the Department of Justice,” Sessions adds.

While Sessions pledges loyalty to the Justice Department, he also plans to suggest that changes are needed to combat what he calls a wave of “rising crime” in the U.S., something Obama administration officials say is an uptick after record declines and reflects rashes of murders in a small number of cities.

“These trends cannot continue,” Sessions declares of the spikes in places like Chicago and Baltimore.

Sources say Sen. Chuck Grassley said he is willing to let Congressional Black Caucus members testify at Jeff Sessions' confirmation hearing after a group of outside witnesses.

Sessions’ fellow Senate Republicans will also try to highlight Sessions’ character to not only the public, but to Democrats who’ve promised a detailed grilling for Sessions before the Judiciary Committee, despite the clubby chamber’s tradition of senatorial deference when one of their own is nominated to the Cabinet.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), in his own comments kicking off the confirmation hearing, emphasized Sessions’ familiarity to members of the committee – both his policy views and how he’ll approach his prospective new job as attorney general.

“Every member of this committee knows from experience that, in his new role, Senator Sessions will be a leader for law and order administered without regard to person,” Grassley said at the hearing. “Leadership to that end is exactly what the department now needs.”

Republicans have enlisted moderate GOP Sen. Susan Collins of Maine to formally introduce Sessions to the committee – testimony that sends a clear message that Sessions has the support of the broad spectrum of the conference.

“I can confidently vouch for the fact that Jeff Sessions is a person of integrity, a principled leader, and a dedicated public servant,” Collins told the Judiciary Committee.

Source: POLITICO – TOP Stories

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