AG pick Jeff Sessions grilled on sexual assault, Russia, racial remarks in confirmation hearing

AG pick Jeff Sessions grilled on sexual assault, Russia, racial remarks in confirmation hearing
Posted at 3:07 PM, Jan 10, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-10 18:59:20-05

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Latest on the Senate confirmation hearing for President-elect Donald Trump's selection for attorney general (all times EST):

5:30 p.m.

Sen. Jeff Sessions is defending his receipt of awards from groups that have espoused strong views against Muslims and immigrants.

Sessions last year received a Keeper of the Flame Award from the Center for Security Policy, whose founder, Frank Gaffney, has warned that the Muslim Brotherhood is infiltrating the federal government in an attempt to overthrow it and install Islamic law in the U.S.

Sessions was questioned about that award and others by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat.

Sessions says he was honored but doesn't agree with everything the groups stand for.


3:30 p.m.

Asked at his confirmation hearing about a 2005 video in which Donald Trump bragged about using his fame to force himself on women, Sen. Jeff Sessions said he believes grabbing a woman by her genitalia is sexual assault.

Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont asked Sessions, the president-elect's pick for attorney general, about some conflicting statements Sessions made on the campaign trail after the video was released.

In the video, Trump says, "when you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything."

Leahy asked Sessions at Tuesday's hearing: "Is grabbing a woman by her genitals without her consent sexual assault?"

Sessions answered: "Clearly it is."


1:35 p.m.

Donald Trump's transition spokesman is condemning the tactics used by Code Pink and other groups protesting Sen. Jeff Sessions' confirmation hearing.

Incoming press secretary Sean Spicer tells reporters that the peaceful protesters were attempting "to disrupt our democratic process."

He said Democratic leaders, including Sen. Chuck Schumer, should be asked to denounce these "left-wing tactics" — just as Trump was asked to denounce what Spicer described as "random individuals" who supported him during the campaign.

It is unclear to whom Spicer referred, but Trump drew criticism over the way he responded to the support of controversial figures, including white supremacists like David Duke.

Protesters including two men wearing Ku Klux Klan costumes were escorted out of Tuesday's hearing. Some shouted, "No Trump, no KKK. No fascist USA."


12:50 p.m.

Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions says he "has no reason to doubt" the conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies that connected Russian President Vladimir Putin directly to the hacking of Democratic accounts during the election campaign.

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar asked Sessions, Donald Trump's pick for attorney general, whether he would question the accuracy of the intelligence agencies' conclusion that Russia hacked into the emails of Democratic officials and paid "trolls" to make nasty comments on social media services.

"I have no reason to doubt that and no evidence of anything otherwise," Sessions said at his confirmation hearing Tuesday.

Trump himself has been less definitive in response to the intelligence report, though his incoming chief of staff, Reince Priebus, said Sunday that Trump indeed has accepted that Russia was responsible for the hacking.


11:50 a.m.

Sen. Jeff Sessions is expressing his support for keeping open the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba detention facility.

He says he believes it's a safe place to house suspected terrorists captured overseas and should continue to be used.

That perspective differs from the viewpoint of the Obama administration, which has transferred prisoners to other countries in hopes of ultimately closing it.

The Justice Department in the last eight years has moved to bring militants captured abroad to American courts, rather than placing them in Guantanamo and treating them as military detainees.


11:45 a.m.

Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions says he does not support a ban on Muslims entering the United States.

Trump proposed a temporary ban on Muslim immigrants during the Republican primary campaign, drawing sharp criticism from both parties. During the general election, he shifted his rhetoric to focus on temporarily halting immigration from an unspecified list of countries with ties to terrorism. Trump did not disavow the Muslim ban, which is still prominently displayed on his campaign website.

Sessions, Trump's pick for attorney general, reiterated Trump's position of stronger vetting of potential terrorists at his confirmation hearing Tuesday, but he denounced a Muslim ban.

Sessions said, "I do not support the idea that Muslims should be denied entry to the United States."


11 a.m.

Sen. Jeff Sessions is strongly denying allegations of racial animosity that derailed his federal judicial nomination 30 years ago.

He calls the accusations "false" and part of an unfair caricature.

In 1986, he was accused of having called a black attorney "boy" and having made derogatory references to the NAACP and ACLU.

Sessions says he hopes that this week's hearing on his attorney general nomination will show "that I conducted myself honorably and properly at the time."

He says he's the same person he was, but perhaps a little wiser.


10:55 a.m.

Sen. Jeff Sessions said that if he is confirmed as attorney general, he would recuse himself from investigations of Hillary Clinton's email server after making comments during the presidential election about the matter.

Sessions was asked by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley how he would handle the Clinton probe.

The Alabama senator said because of some of the comments he made, "the proper thing to do would be to recuse myself."


10:15 a.m.

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, says she wants to evaluate whether President-elect Donald Trump's pick for attorney general can enforce laws that he voted against.

In her opening statement at the confirmation hearing for Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., Feinstein said "there is so much fear in this country," particularly among African Americans. She noted Sessions has in the past voted against hate-crimes legislation.

She said the role of attorney general is "an awesome responsibility" and said his job will be to enforce the laws, rather than to advocate his beliefs.

She noted that Trump said during the campaign that he would direct the attorney general to investigate his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.

"That's not what an attorney general does," Feinstein said.


10:05 a.m.

Opening two days of hearings on President-elect Donald Trump's pick for attorney general, Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Grassley says fellow Sen. Jeff Sessions "is a man of honor and integrity, dedicated to the faithful and fair enforcement of the law."

Sessions is a member of the Judiciary panel. Democrats on the committee have expressed concerns about whether the Alabama Republican can be non-political in his role as the nation's top law enforcement officer.

Grassley says Sessions is a man "who knows well and deeply respects" the role of the Department of Justice. He noted that Sessions questioned previous attorney general nominees on whether they could be independent.

Like Sessions has previously, Grassley criticized the Obama administration for not enforcing some criminal and immigration laws.


9:35 a.m.

Two men wearing Ku Klux Klan costumes were removed from the confirmation hearing for Jeff Sessions, Donald Trump's pick for attorney general, after they caused a disruption.

As security took them out of the room, they yelled, "you can't arrest me, I am white!" and "white people own this government!"

Civil liberties advocates have cited Sessions' voting record and his appearances before groups that espouse harsh views on Muslims and immigrants. He was rejected for a federal judgeship by the Senate Judiciary Committee 30 years ago amid accusations of racial insensitivity.

In a prepared opening statement, Sessions said he understands "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."


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