President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for attorney general 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 law.
by a U.S. Senate committee tasked with confirming his appointment,
Senator Jeff Sessions 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 genitals.
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.”
10 days to go before Trump enters the White House, Sessions, 70, was
the first of his Cabinet nominees to go before a Senate committee. As
attorney general, he will serve as the top U.S. federal prosecutor and
be responsible for giving unbiased legal advice to the president and
With that in mind, lawmakers from both
Trump’s Republican Party and the rival 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.
senator since 1997, Sessions was questioned by the Senate Judiciary
Committee, a panel on which he serves, and 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 times.
Sessions said he would not
support banning anyone from the United States on the basis of religion,
and said Trump’s intentions were to restrict people from countries
harboring terrorists, not all Muslims. Elected on Nov. 8, Trump at one
point had campaigned on a proposal to temporarily ban Muslims from
entering the country.
said he favored “higher intensity of vetting” for refugees seeking to
enter the United States from countries that harbor terrorists but added
he would oppose ending the U.S. refugee program.
Sessions 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.
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.
said he would recuse himself from investigating Hillary Clinton’s email
practices and charitable foundation if confirmed as attorney general
and would favor the appointment of a special prosecutor for any such
“I have said a few
things,” Sessions said about his comments during the presidential race
accusing former Democratic presidential candidate Clinton of illegal
activity. “I think that is one of the reasons why I should not make a
decision in that case.”
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
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
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
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 protection. A key plank of Trump’s election campaign was
his pledge to deport illegal immigrants and to build a wall along the
U.S. border with Mexico.
Sessions also said he agreed with his many of
his fellow Republicans that the military prison for foreign terrorism
suspects in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba remain open. The Obama administration
has sought to close the prison, opened by Bush in 2002, and bring its
prisoners to U.S. civilian courts to be tried.
DEFENSE AGAINST RACISM
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, are false.
“I abhor the Klan and what it represents and its hateful ideology,” Sessions said in his opening remarks.
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
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 enforcement post.
also said he opposed lowering mandatory minimum sentences for
non-violent drug offenders and did not see voter identification laws as a
barrier to voting, a reversal of two key stances of the Obama