WASHINGTON — Attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions rejected accusations of racism, said he doesn’t support a ban on Muslims entering the U.S. and would stand up to his boss — President-elect Donald Trump — if “asked to do something that’s plainly unlawful.”
He also said he’d recuse himself from any investigation related to Hillary Clinton’s email server or the Clinton Foundation if he is confirmed to lead the Justice Department.
The Alabama Republican, the first of Trump’s Cabinet picks to go before a Senate confirmation committee, stopped short yesterday of saying he’d take the same action if the Justice Department were to investigate the president-elect for alleged conflicts of interest.
Sessions did say he would be able to stand up to Trump — even resigning if necessary.
The hearing was largely free of confrontation, with even Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary committee showing great deference to their colleague as they questioned him on issues from his immigration stance to criminal justice reform. Early on, protesters in KKK outfits were escorted out of the hearing.
Sessions defended his record against charges of racism, including a voter fraud case he brought as a U.S. attorney in the 1980s against civil rights activists in Alabama. Opponents, including former Gov. Deval Patrick, who was a part of the defense team, said Sessions’ prosecution of the case, which ended in acquittals for all the defendants, was an effort to criminalize efforts to assist black voters at the polls.
“These are damnably false charges,” Sessions said yesterday. “The prosecution sought to protect the integrity of the ballot, not block voting.”
On the issue of enforcing federal laws barring possession and distribution of marijuana in states like Massachusetts that have legalized its sale and use, Sessions said he “won’t commit to never enforcing federal law,” but called federal prosecution “a problem of resources for the federal government” and urged Congress to act to bring harmony between state and federal law.
On other AG matters, he said:
–“I do not support the idea that Muslims, as a religious group, should be denied admission to the United States.”
–It was “ludicrous” to think he supported the KKK.
–He’ll enforce abortion laws, fight illegal drug runners and not be a “rubberstamp to any idea the president has.”
Today the hearing will continue with testimony from a number of civil rights advocates.
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