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WASHINGTON U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s
pick for attorney general, Jeff Sessions, promised on Tuesday to
stand up to Trump, his close ally and future boss, saying he
would oppose a ban on Muslims entering the country and enforce a
law against waterboarding even though he voted against the
Questioned for 10-1/2 hours by a U.S. Senate committee
responsible for confirming his appointment, Sessions, a U.S.
senator from Alabama, distanced himself from comments he had
made defending Trump from criticism over a 2005 video that
emerged in October showing Trump boasting about grabbing women’s
At the time, Sessions told The Weekly Standard magazine he
would not characterize the behavior as sexual assault. He later
said the comments were taken out of context. Asked on Tuesday
whether “grabbing a woman by her genitals without consent is …
sexual assault,” he replied: “Clearly, it would be.”
With 10 days to go before Trump takes office, Sessions, 70,
was the first Cabinet nominee to face questioning. He appeared
before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Trump’s pick to run the
Department of Homeland Security, retired Marine Corps General
John Kelly, later went before the Homeland Security Committee.
As attorney general, Sessions would serve as the top U.S.
law enforcement officer and be responsible for giving unbiased
legal advice to the president and executive agencies.
With that in mind, lawmakers from both Trump’s Republican
Party and the Democratic Party sought to establish how closely
Sessions hewed to Trump positions and whether he could put aside
his staunchly conservative political positions to enforce laws
he may personally oppose.
A senator since 1997, Sessions was widely expected to be
confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate.
Protesters accusing Sessions of having a poor record on
human rights interrupted the Capitol Hill proceedings several
Sessions said he would not support banning anyone from the
United States on the basis of religion and that Trump’s
intentions were to restrict people from countries harboring
terrorists, not all Muslims. Elected on Nov. 8, Trump at one
point campaigned on a proposal to temporarily ban Muslims from
entering the country.
Sessions said he favored “higher intensity of vetting” for
refugees seeking to enter the United States from countries that
harbor terrorists but that he would oppose ending the U.S.
He also said he would enforce a 2015 law that outlawed
waterboarding terrorism suspects even if it meant resisting
Trump. The senator said he had voted against the law, believing
those in high positions in the military and intelligence
community should be able to do so.
During the campaign, Trump said waterboarding, which
simulates drowning and is widely regarded as torture, was an
effective technique and vowed to bring it back and make it “a
hell of a lot worse.” More recently Trump has said retired
Marine Corps General James Mattis, his nominee for secretary of
defense, had persuasively argued against it.
Sessions said he would enforce laws upheld by the U.S.
Supreme Court, even those he disagreed with, such as decisions
making abortion and same-sex marriage legal.
Sessions said the comments he made during the 2016
presidential campaign about Democrat Hillary Clinton’s email
practices and charitable foundation would cloud the perception
of impartiality if the Justice Department continued
investigating Clinton. He said he would recuse himself and
favored a special prosecutor to carry out any future
Trump, who defeated Clinton, said during the campaign that
if elected, he would ask his attorney general to appoint a
special prosecutor to see that Clinton go to prison for her use
of a private email server while she was secretary of state and
her relationship with her family’s charitable foundation.
Sessions said he agreed with Trump in opposing Democratic
President Barack Obama’s executive action that granted temporary
protection to immigrant children brought to the country
illegally by their parents and would not oppose overturning it.
Sessions, representing the deeply conservative Southern
state of Alabama, has long opposed legislation that provides a
path to citizenship for immigrants. He has also been a close
ally of groups seeking to restrict legal immigration by placing
limits on visas used by companies to hire foreign workers.
Sessions said he would be more aggressive in investigating
and prosecuting abuses of the H-1B visa program, which he said
allows companies to discriminate against American workers by
As head of the Justice Department, the attorney general
oversees the immigration court system that decides whether
immigrants are deported or granted asylum or some other kind of
Sessions renewed his criticism of the Obama administration
for not being tougher on countries that refuse to take back
criminal migrants ordered deported from the United States.
A key plank of Trump’s election campaign was his pledge to
deport illegal immigrants and build a wall along the U.S. border
Kelly told his hearing a physical barrier on its own is not
enough to keep people and drugs from illegally entering the
United States. In written testimony, Kelly said that “rapidly
processing” and deporting immigrants in “significant numbers”
would deter future illegal migration.
The U.S. immigration court system has a backlog of over
500,000 cases awaiting a decision on deportation, asylum or some
other kind of protection. Many migrants arriving at the
U.S.-Mexico border are given a notice to appear in court one to
three years in the future.
DEFENSE AGAINST RACISM
Before the Judiciary Committee, Sessions several times
defended himself against charges of racism. He said allegations
that he harbored sympathies toward the Ku Klux Klan, a violent
white supremacist organization, were false.
“I abhor the Klan and what it represents and its hateful
ideology,” Sessions said in his opening remarks.
Sessions was denied confirmation to a federal judgeship in
1986 after allegations emerged that he made racist remarks,
including testimony that he called an African-American
prosecutor “boy,” an allegation Sessions denied.
Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein said the Senate
Judiciary Committee had received letters from 400 civil rights
organizations opposing his confirmation to the country’s top law
(Additional reporting by David Alexander, Eric Beech, Sarah
Lynch, Dustin Volz and Ian Simpson)
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