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Trump Nominee Hearings Off to Contentious Start

01-10-2017

The first in a series of Trump administration confirmation hearings began on Capitol Hill Tuesday as Alabama Sen. Jeff Session appeared before members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. President-Elect Donald Trump has nominated Sessions to serve as U.S. attorney general.

Two Code Pink activists dressed as Ku Klux Klansmen disrupted the first minutes of the hearing. Capitol Hill police quickly ejected them from the hearing room, but other protestors also caused disruptions throughout the hearing. 

As they did in 1986 when Sessions was considered for a federal judgeship, committee Democrats expressed concerns over allegations that Sessions is a racist.

The ranking Democrat on the committee, California Sen. Diane Feinstein, asked Sessions to respond to a letter signed by 1,400 law professors opposing his nomination because they say he made "racially insensitive" comments when he was a federal prosecutor. 

Similar allegations 30 years ago led the U.S. Senate to deny Sessions the federal judgeship. He lost that nomination by two votes. Former Sen. Arlen Specter (deceased) voted against the appointment, but Sessions testified Tuesday that Specter later said he regretted the decision.

Sessions calmly defended his views and conduct as U.S. attorney in Alabama saying,"This caricature of me from 1986 was not correct..."

"I conducted myself honorably and properly.... I did not harbor the kind of animosity and race-based discrimination ideas that I was accused of. I did not!" he said.

And Sessions insisted that he "abhor(s) the Ku Klux Klan."

Because of his past political statements about Hillary Clinton and the FBI's email investigation, Sessions testified that he would recuse himself from involvement in any possible future investigation of the Clinton Foundation or Hillary Clinton emails.  

Sessions said that it would be "the best approach for the nation." He suggested politics should not influence U.S. Justice Department decisions but insisted that his approach as attorney general would be one that "assumes no one is above the law."

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-N.C., asked Sessions his opinion of the FBI's conclusion that the Russian government hacked DNC computers.

Sessions said he had not been briefed on the intelligence but admitted he has many "friends in the FBI" and believes the bureau made an honest determination about Russian hacking. 

The attorney general nominee expressed concerns about foreign entities trying to interfere in U.S. elections. 

Sessions called the DNC computer and Podesta email hacking a "significant event" but one that is not isolated. He said there is computer "penetration throughout our government by foreign entities." 

Sessions noted the Chinese have also stolen sensitive information from U.S. computers.

Sen. Feinstein questioned Sessions about several cultural issues and when she asked him to comment on the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion in the United States, Sessions said he felt the Supreme Court ruling violated the U.S. Constitution. But he said it is set policy and he will respect and follow it because "it is the law of the land."

On the issue of same-sex marriage, Sessions said the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision is settled law and he will "follow that decision."

Another day of contentious questioning of Sessions is scheduled for Wednesday. Sen. Corey Booker, R-N.J., says he will openly oppose the attorney general nominee.  

That unprecedented action will make Booker the first sitting senator in U.S. history to speak out against a fellow senator during a cabinet confirmation hearing.

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