WASHINGTON – Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., expressed concern that, as attorney general, nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions, R- Ala., would prosecute former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
Citing President-elect Donald Trump's suggestion that he would appoint a special prosecutor to look into possible criminality by Clinton, Feinsten lectured Sessions during his Senate confirmation hearing that he will have to be true to the law and not to the president.
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She said prosecuting Clinton is "not his job" and that Sessions must put aside his loyalty to the president. Feinstein said he must be the people's lawyer, not the president's.
But Sessions promised that, because of remarks he made during the presidential campaign, he would recuse himself from any decision to investigate and prosecute Clinton, and not participate in any subsequent prosecution.
The nominee explained that political disputes should not become criminal cases, because, "This country does not punish its political enemies."
Sessions also denied chanting "Lock her up" during Trump campaign rallies. "No I did not, I don't think. I heard it ... sometimes humorously done," he said.
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However, Sessions appeared to keep the door open to the possibility of prosecuting Clinton, noting that the nation's legal system also "makes sure no one is above the law."
The most damning charge against Sessions made by his opponents is that he is a racist. And, it even looked like the Ku Klux Klan made an appearance at the hearing, but it was actually enraged leftists in costume.
Screaming protesters frequently interrupted the hearing, yelling "Jefferson Bearegard" and calling the senator a racist.
The fake klansmen were joined by members of Code Pink brandishing such signs as, "End Racism. Stop Sessions."
The protesters repeatedly brought the proceedings to a halt, only to be removed. And, each time, the hearing would continue.
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Leftists' accusations of racism were not confined to the hearing room.
MTV News culture writer and host Ira Madison took aim at the nominee's Asian-American grandchildren who accompanied Sessions, tweeting, "There is no reason for that child to be in his lap in a hearing other than to send an 'I'm not racist message.'"
Sessions' daughter is married to an Asian-American man.
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But, Madison called Sessions' grandchildren a "prop," and claimed he stole them from Toys "R" Us.
In the conclusion of his opening statement, Sessions directly addressed Democrats' accusations of racism, saying, "These are damnably false charges."
He forcefully denied accusations of racism in a 1986 voter-fraud case and of harboring sympathy for the KKK. allegations that derailed his nomination to become a federal judge.
The nominee insisted said "the caricature of me was not correct" and that "I acted properly and honorably at the time."
Sessions recalled, as U.S. attorney in southern Alabama, he invited attorneys from Washington to assist in the prosecution after the "unconscionable death of a man killed simply because he was black."
The nominee blasted the "hateful ideology" of the Klan, and noted "that murdering klansman was indeed executed."
He also denied he ever said the civil-rights group the NAACP was un-American.
Sessions said he fully understood the effects that "relentless discrimination" have had on our "African-American brothers and sisters."
At one point, Sen. RIchard Blumenthal, D-Conn., even asked Sessions if he'd ever received an award from the KKK.
He made the inquiry after noting Sessions had neglected to mention on a questionnaire he had won awards from the David Horowitz Freedom Center, Frank Gaffney's Center for Security Policy and the Federation for American Immigration Reform.
"Given that you did not disclose a number of those awards, are there any other awards from groups that have similar kinds of ideological negative views of immigrants or of African-Americans or Muslims or others, including awards that you may have received from the Ku Klux Klan?" Blumenthal asked.
"No, I wouldn't take a Klan — award from the Klan. So, I would just say that I received hundreds of awards," responded Sessions.
He added, "I would just say to you, I have no motive in denying that I received those awards, as [was] probably publicly published when it happened, and I've received hundreds, multiple hundreds of awards over my career, as I'm sure you have."
Blumenthal mentioned the Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR, is classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Sessions said he would not "defer to the Southern Poverty Law Center" as the "final authority" on such matters.
Under questioning by fellow southerner Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., he was asked what it felt like to be accused of being a bigot.
Saying, "I appreciate the question," Sessions said it was difficult as someone who comes from the Deep South.
"In 1986 there was an organized effort to characterize me as something I wasn't. I wasn't prepared to respond and I didn't respond well," he mused.
However, Sessions insisted the characterization of him as a racist, "wasn't accurate then, and it is not accurate now."
He asserted that as a southerner who personally witnessed discrimination, he had no doubt it was practiced systematically and that, "I know it was wrong. We can never go back. I am totally committed to the equality of every citizen."
Sessions also promised, "I will ensure the civil rights of the LGBT community will be fully enforced."
"I understand the absolute necessity that all my actions must fall within the bounds of the Constitution and the laws of the United States."
"I am ready for this job," Sessions insisted. "We will do it right. Local law enforcement will be our partners. They will be respected. I have always loved the law. It is the foundation of this country."
In his opening statement, Judiciary Committee chair Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said Senate colleagues know Sessions as a man who is "straightforward and fair," someone who has served with "integrity, dedication and courage."
However, Senate Democrats are portraying the man who once tried and convicted members of the Alabama KKK as unfit to become Trump's attorney general because of his record on civil rights.
Republicans, in turn, are touting that very record.
Testifying before the committee on behalf of Sessions, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, noted that as a U.S. attorney he had provided leadership in that prosecution of two KKK members for murder.
"I have never seen anything to suggest Sessions is anything other than an honorable man," Collins asserted, adding, "These are not the actions of a man who is motivated by racial animus."
Indeed, as southern Alabama’s U.S. attorney, Sessions secured the first death penalty conviction of a white man for the murder of a black citizen in the state since before World War I. He led the effort to award the congressional gold medal to civil rights icon Rosa Parks. Sessions has also been endorsed by prominent black leaders in his home state.
Sessions noted his nomination has also been endorsed by every major law enforcement agency, and vowed, "I will do my best to be worthy of that."
Sessions charged that law enforcement officers have been "unfairly maligned and blamed for a few bad actors" during the current administration.
He said political leadership had abandoned officers and moral has suffered.
Sessions noted a 10 percent increase in deaths of law-enforcement officers in 2015 and declared, "This is a wake up call, colleagues. It cannot continue."
"If I am so fortunate as to be confirmed, they can be assured they will have my support in their lawful duties," Sessions promised officers.
"Together we can reach the highest standards and highest results," he added.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, lavished high praise on Sessions for his respect for the law while blasting the Obama administration for its administration of the Justice Department.
The Texan said, "I support Senator Sessions for attorney general for the very reason that many vehemently oppose him. Namely, I — and they — know that Sessions will enforce the law. The fact that this is controversial tells you all you need to know about the sorry intellectual state of our country’s elites, especially in the legal academy and federal bureaucracies."
Cruz continued, "Senator Sessions believes in the foundational idea that we are governed by objectively knowable, written rules, and that we should not be subject to the interpretive whims of unelected, power-hungry bureaucrats. Sessions will instill this belief at the Department of Justice."
The senator summed up, "Many of Sessions’ opponents actually believe the Justice Department does not need reform. To them, the lawlessness is a feature, not a bug. President Obama and Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch did not mess things up, in this view. Rather, they successfully transformed the DOJ from a law enforcement agency to yet another law 'enhancement' agency. To them, Sessions is a threat because of his impartial commitment to the rule of law."
Sessions indicated his willingness to enforce even laws he dislikes when Feinstein asked him if he still believed Roe v. Wade was one of the worst Supreme Court decisions of all time.
"It is," Sessions replied. "It violated the Constitution, and really attempted to set policy and not follow law."
The senator has previously stated, "I firmly believe that Roe v. Wade and its descendants represent one of the worst, colossally erroneous Supreme Court decisions of all time. It was an activist decision … it was a court that decided to politically impose their will."
Sessions explained his belief that the decision "denies people the right to make laws they might feel are appropriate."
Asked if he would direct his solicitor general to try to overturn Roe v. Wade, the senator said it is the law of the land, and cases with the potential to upend it rarely occur.
He said he could not predict what challenges to the law might arise.
Under questioning by Sen. Graham, a supporter of so-called comprehensive immigration reform, which includes what critics such as Sessions call amnesty for illegal immigrants, the senator called the current implementation of the system unfair, "particularly for children."
Sessions said, with particular respect to illegal immigrant children, "We've been put in a really bad situation."
He implied it was the Obama administration that had created a situation that found so many minors in the country illegally.
The senator called for dealing with these "difficult decisions with compassion."
Sen Dick Durbin, D-Ill., later picked up on that line of questioning, and asserted that nothing in Sessions' record indicated he would be fair or compassionate in dealing with the so-called "dreamers," those minors in the country illegally.
Sessions replied that the result of the presidential election indicated that Americans wanted to see change in the country's approach to immigration, and that his practice would be to simply follow the law.
He said he voted against comprehensive immigration reform in his role as a senator, but, "That is not the attorney general's role. The role of the attorney general is to enforce the law."
He explained that he knows that the incoming Trump administration cannot seek out and remove everyone in the country illegally, but the president-elect had indicated the priority will be to first remove those illegal immigrants who have committed additional crimes.
Sessions said, first, "Let's fix the system, and after this lawlessness has been ended we can address how to deal with (the rest of) those here illegally."
Durbin said he did not believe that answered his question. Sessions replied, "I believe it does. Pretty closely."
Sessions also asserted, "I believe my views on immigration are just, decent and right."
Late in the day, Sessions was asked if an immigrant's religion could be used to bar entry into the country. He was asked it was true he had said that it could not.
He replied that was not true. Sessions said he did think religion could be a disqualifying factor, depending on how it was practiced.
The senator said if a person's practice of religion indicated he or she could pose a threat, that should be looked at closely. And that nothing in the law prevented that.
Barring any surprise developments, Senate Democrats don't have the votes to stop the confirmation, but they are essentially attempting to hobble Sessions by tarnishing his reputation before he takes office.
In fact, Democrats are going to historic lengths to target Sessions, breaking with Senate tradition by having one of their own testify against the nominee.
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., will testify against his colleague on Wednesday, a likely unprecedented move because it is believed to be the first time a sitting senator has testified against another senator during a cabinet nomination hearing.
"These are extraordinary times, and they call for extraordinary measures,” Booker said on MSNBC on Monday.
The move isn't just extraordinary, it is perhaps curious, given that Booker worked with Sessions in 2015 on legislation to honor participants in the 1965 civil rights march in Selma, Alabama.
Booker has said he felt "blessed and honored to have partnered with Senator Sessions" on the legislation.
And, in turn, during Tuesday's hearing Sessions address emphasized how glad he was to have worked on that legislation with Booker.
Sessions called the Selma march an extremely important turning point in the history of the south and the battle against segregation and racism.
Nonetheless, Democrats and progressive allies have portrayed the Alabama Republican senator as a racist, sexist and homophobe who will set back justice in the United States.
As WND has reported in depth, amid the praise of many black leaders who know him, his critics cite only offhand comments, such as a joking reference to the Ku Klux Klan, and the prosecution of a 1985 voting-fraud indictment of black defendants in Perry County, Alabama, who were accused of intimidating black voters. As the Washington Times noted in an editorial, "It was a case of black vs. black."
Two days of confirmation hearings began Tuesday for Sessions, who has held his Senate seat since 1997, served as the state’s attorney general and as a U.S. attorney. Only 50 votes will be needed for the Republican-majority Senate to confirm Trump's picks, though a single senator could slow the process and thwart the new administration's goal of confirming as many as seven nominees by Inauguration Day.
Rev. Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network, has vowed a “season of civil disobedience,” declaring Sessions' nomination "an affront to everything the civil rights and voting rights community has stood for historically, and a vote for Sessions should be held accountable and punishable by the voters."
But Monday morning a group of black pastors from Alabama held a press conference at the Cannon House Office Building on Capitol Hill to endorse Sessions.
"Americans are living in a toxic climate where the serious charge of racism is carelessly leveled against anyone with whom the left disagrees," said Rev. Dean Nelson, director of African-American Outreach for Family Research Council's Watchmen on the Wall. "We are here today to make it perfectly clear that this attack against Senator Jeff Sessions is baseless, and that he is more than qualified to be our next attorney general."
Perry County Commissioner Albert Turner Jr., the son of defendants in the 1985 case, this week endorsed Sessions.
“I have known Senator Sessions for many years, beginning with the voter fraud case in Perry County in which my parents were defendants," he said, according to the Washington Times.
"My differences in policy and ideology with him do not translate to personal malice. He is not a racist. As I have said before, at no time then or now has Jeff Sessions said anything derogatory about my family."
Artur Davis, a former congressman who represented Alabama's 7th District, which includes Perry County, explained in an interview four years ago with the Montgomery Advertiser that Sessions, as the U.S. attorney, was trying to correct abuse of the black vote.
Sessions also has the backing of President Obama’s former surgeon general and the Democratic leader in the Alabama state Senate, both of whom are black.
William Smith, the former chief counsel for Sessions on the Senate Judiciary and Budget Committees, who is black, said his interactions with Sessions over more than a dozen years have been only positive.
“When I would go over to talk to him late in the afternoon about upcoming legislation, he might spend more time with me talking about my personal life to make sure my life was going well, because he simply cared about how I was doing,” Smith said, according to PBS.
Smith said people who have not spent much time with Sessions should not judge his character.
“What’s been left out of [the] national conversation is that everyone bringing up attacks against him don’t know him,” Smith said. “They don’t like his policy points of view, but he’s not a racist.”
Trump, when Sessions was introduced in November as his attorney general nominee, called the senator a "world-class legal mind and considered a truly great attorney general and U.S. attorney in the state of Alabama."
“Jeff is greatly admired by legal scholars and virtually everyone who knows him," Trump said.
'Make them understand'
Sharpton, meanwhile, said a march in Washington, D.C., has been planned for Jan. 14 during the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend to protest the Sessions nomination, PJ Media reported.
“We’re not just doing this to be doing it. We do it because it can lead to change and, believe me, there will be a season of civil disobedience particularly around the Sessions nomination,” he said Friday on a conference call with other civil rights organizations’ leaders such as Cornell William Brooks, president and CEO of the NAACP, and Janet Murguia, president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza.
Sharpton said activists will visit senators’ offices and make house calls to “make them understand” they will be held accountable for voting in favor of Sessions.
“Make them understand that if they think they are voting based on some courtesy of a Senate colleague and will not face a real backlash in their own states, then they have another thing coming. This is not going to be some regular ceremonial procedure that they’re going to be able to bluff their way through,” he said.
Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, said: “The question is what in his record over 40 years suggests that we can trust him to enforce the nation’s civil rights laws, and the onus is on Sen. Sessions to prove, in light of that record, that he is fit for this position."
The controversial Southern Poverty Law Center, which has cast Dr. Ben Carson as an extremist for his traditional view of marriage and family, called Sessions a “champion of anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant extremists.”
NAACP President Cornell Brooks was among six people arrested during a sit-in protest in Sessions’ Mobile, Alabama, office last week
PBS reported more than 1,200 faculty members, from 176 law schools in 49 states, signed a letter opposing Sessions’ candidacy because of his stance on "mass incarceration," climate change, women, the LGBTQ community, immigration and civil rights.
The faculty members cited Sessions’ 1986 confirmation hearings for an appointment to a federal judgeship by President Reagan in which civil rights attorney Gerry Hebert testified that Sessions called the NAACP and ACLU “un-American” and “communist-inspired.”
Politico reported Democratic Party senators, meanwhile, are pushing to let Congressional Black Caucus members testify at the confirmation hearing.
Congressional Black Caucus chairman Cedric Richmond, D-La., will raise concerns about Sessions' record with "communities of color,” a source said.
Also testifying will be Oscar Vasquez, a U.S. veteran and beneficiary of President Obama's DREAM Act, which provided permanent residence status to millions of children of illegal aliens. Sessions opposes a pathway to citizenship for illegal aliens.
CNN reported the mother of Matthew Shepard, the homosexual college student who was fatally beaten in Wyoming in 1998, is urging senators to oppose Sessions' nomination because of his opposition to hate-crimes legislation.
Judy Shepard, in a report issued by the Human Rights Campaign, blasted Sessions for opposing the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which Obama signed into law in 2009.
She said Sessions "has forfeited opportunity after opportunity to stand up for people like my son Matt and has, instead, used his position of power to target them for increased discrimination and marginalization, thus encouraging violence and other acts deemed to be hate crimes."
A Sessions spokeswoman told CNN he would enforce hate crimes laws as attorney general even though he opposed them in the Senate over constitutional concerns.
A source told CNN that Sessions was concerned that vague terms in the law could have allowed re-prosecution of people who had been acquitted.
"Senator Sessions believes that all Americans, no matter their background, deserve effective protection from violence and that crimes committed on the basis of prejudice are unquestionably repugnant," said Sarah Isgur Flores, a Sessions spokeswoman. "While he may have had disagreements about what was the most effective policy to combat such crimes, as attorney general, he will be fully committed to enforcing the laws – even those for which he did not vote."
Doubt has been cast on the prevailing narrative that developed after Shepard's death. As WND reported, a book by an accomplished, openly gay journalist published in 2013 presented documentary evidence that the murder of Matthew Shepard had nothing to do with hatred of homosexuals. It was so convincing that the Advocate, which calls itself the “world’s leading source for LGBT news and entertainment,” published a positive review of the book titled “Have We Got Matthew Shepard All Wrong?”
Julia Ioffe, a contributing writer for the Huffington Post, tried to bring in the views of Sessions' father to cast the senator as a racist, tweeting above a clipping from an old news article: "In 1985, Jeff Sessions' father told the Montgomery Advertiser that he believes in the separation of the races."
The Hill reported police and law enforcement officials are backing Sessions as someone who will bring a "police-first" mentality to the Justice Department that they say was missing under President Obama.
Sessions is backed by the Fraternal Order of Police, the nation’s largest police union; the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association; the National Association of Police Organizations; and the National Sheriffs Association.
“We have about a 20-year relationship with Jeff Sessions from his time in the Senate on the Judiciary Committee and our members in Alabama who worked with him, both as state attorney general and a U.S. attorney, and the best way to sum it up is that we don’t have anything bad to say about Jeff Sessions,” FOP executive director Jim Pasco told the Hill newspaper.
“He has extraordinary insight into the demands and stresses of a police officer’s life and also has a real reverence for the rule of law. It sounds corny but it’s true, and that’s what our members pray for in a prosecutor.”
Obama’s attorneys general, Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch, focused on investigating police practices in minority communities such as Ferguson, Missouri, reinforcing a narrative by activists such as Black Lives Matters that police are intentionally targeting young black men.
“Sessions presumes that law enforcement officials in the main are good folks,” said Bill Barr, an attorney general under President George H.W. Bush. “He’s not going to be afraid to go after rogue cops. But he’s also not looking to undermine police authority and effectiveness because he doesn’t work from the assumption that the police are inherently bad. That will be a break from the Obama years.”
Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice said Sessions "will play a pivotal role in restoring confidence and credibility to a badly damaged, scandal-ridden Justice Department."
"The American people deserve an attorney general and a Justice Department centered on upholding the Constitution and the rule of law," he said. "That is exactly what Senator Sessions will do."
Sekulow said Sessions' "long track record of working across lines – be they political, racial, or socioeconomic lines – is exemplary."
Charging Republicans are rushing to confirm Trump's nominees without proper vetting, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., is using Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's own words against him, the Hill reported.
Schumer sent the Kentucky Republican his own 2009 letter – to then Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid – outlining nomination requirements, crossing out McConnell's signature and writing in his own.
McConnell has pledged that no nominee would get a full Senate vote before all of their paperwork has been submitted, the Hill said.
Five nominees will testify before the Senate this week: Rex Tillerson, Trump’s nominee for secretary of state; Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., for head of the CIA; Elaine Chao for transportation secretary; and retired Marine Gen. James Mattis for defense secretary.