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Posted Jan 10, 2017 10:09 am CST
As his confirmation hearings for attorney general began on Tuesday, Jeff Sessions departed from prepared remarks to deny what he termed “false charges” that he had a poor record on civil rights.
The Republican U.S. senator from Alabama addressed lingering allegations that scuttled his nomination for a federal judgeship in 1986, CNN reports. The Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) and the New York Times are carrying live coverage with updates.
“I abhor the Klan and its hateful ideology,” Sessions said. “I deeply understand 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 understand the demands for justice and fairness made by our LGBT community,” he added. “I will ensure that the statutes protecting their civil rights and their safety are full enforced.”
Sessions also said he would recuse himself from any investigations of Hillary Clinton. During the campaign, Sessions had criticized the investigation of her use of a private server for government emails, and had alleged the Clinton Foundation tried to “extort” contributions.
The campaign was highly contentious, Sessions said, and he made a lot of comments about the issues. “We can never have a political dispute turn into a criminal dispute,” Sessions said. “This country does not punish its political enemies.”
Sessions also said he would respect the Supreme Court decisions finding a right to gay marriage and abortion. And he said he opposed banning Muslim immigrants as a religious group. Instead, he said, the focus should be on individuals coming from countries with a history of terrorism.
In his prepared opening remarks, Sessions said he would not be a “rubber stamp” for the president. An attorney general must resign, he said, if pressed to do something illegal or unconstitutional.
Sessions also stressed law and order themes in his opening remarks, the Washington Post reports. He said fighting violent crime is a priority, and supported police officers. Police, he said, feel “unfairly maligned and blamed for the unacceptable actions of a few of their bad actors.”
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