Trump selects nominee for U.S. attorney general; Utah senators respond

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA — President-elect Donald Trump has selected Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions as his pick for attorney general, signaling a sharp break in philosophical direction from the Obama administration’s Justice Department.

The pick was disclosed Friday by a senior Trump official who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly about it. The official wouldn’t say whether Sessions had accepted the job, leaving open the possibility that the appointment wasn’t final.

In file photo, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. speaks to media at Trump Tower in New York. President-elect Donald Trump has picked Sessions for the job of attorney general, Nov. 17, 2016 | (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
In file photo, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. speaks to media at Trump Tower in New York. President-elect Donald Trump has picked Sessions for the job of attorney general, Nov. 17, 2016 | (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Sessions, the first senator to endorse Trump and a Republican known for his support of tough immigration enforcement policies, would likely bring to the department a consistently conservative voice. The former federal prosecutor has questioned whether terrorism suspects should receive the protection of the American court system, objected to the planned closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and has given prominence to the specter of voting fraud, a problem that current Justice Department leadership believes is negligible.

Following the announcement, Utah Republican Sens. Mike Lee and Orrin Hatch released statements in support of the selection.

“Sen. Sessions’ solid understanding of the Constitution and firm commitment to the rule of law is exactly what the Justice Department needs,” Lee said. “I have worked closely with Sen. Sessions on the Judiciary Committee over these past six years and I have every confidence that he will make a great attorney general for all Americans.”

Hatch also mentioned his experience working with Sessions on the Judiciary Committee in his statement, and echoed Lee’s sentiments that Sessions would be a step in the right direction for the Justice Department. Hatch said:

The Obama Justice Department veered away from its core mission and too often politicized enforcement of the law.  Senator Sessions has broad law enforcement experience at both the state and the federal levels, and in both the executive and the legislative branches. I am confident he will help get the Justice Department back on track.  Having served with Senator Sessions for many years on the Judiciary Committee, I look forward to supporting his nomination and working closely with him on important initiatives in the months ahead.

Sessions, 69, would face a confirmation hearing before his peers on the Senate Judiciary Committee, likely in January. His last confirmation hearing, in 1986 for a federal judgeship, was derailed over allegations that he made racist comments.

The committee’s Republican chairman, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, praised Sessions as someone who worked “across the aisle on major legislation” and said he was confident he’d be approved by the panel.

The committee’s top Democrat, Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, said he’s disagreed over the years with Sessions on civil rights, immigration and other issues and that “the American people deserve to learn about Sen. Sessions’ record.”

As attorney general for a president who campaigned on a “law and order” stance, Sessions is likely to depart from the priorities of his predecessors in the Obama administration, Loretta Lynch and Eric Holder.

Civil rights advocates who have seen their causes championed at the Justice Department for the last eight years have already raised concerns that a Trump administration would scale back those efforts, which have included forcing police departments to correct unconstitutional practices and suing North Carolina over a bathroom bill that officials said discriminated against transgender individuals.

Sessions has previously said a “properly exercised” Civil Rights Division “provides tremendous benefit to American citizens” but should not be used as “a sword to assert inappropriate claims that have the effect of promoting political agendas.”

It’s impossible to predict what actions Sessions would take as attorney general, but his questioning of current and former Justice Department officials offer clues about his perspective on some issues.

He’s shown particular interest in national security, arguing as recently as June that the federal government is unable to fully vet refugees from countries including Syria.

Sessions has said the Obama administration’s counterterrorism policies had “emboldened our enemies” and failed to address border control, claiming that hundreds of foreign-born individuals have been charged with acts of terrorism since Sept. 11, 2001. But the culprit of the deadliest such attack in that period, a nightclub shooting in Orlando this year, was born in the United States.

Sessions has warned against the administration’s efforts to close Guantanamo and has condemned the administration’s decision to afford the legal protections of American courts to terror detainees. And he’s been protective of certain surveillance powers, telling Holder in one committee hearing that when it comes to warrantless wiretapping, “we’ve exaggerated the extent to which this is somehow violative of our Constitution.”

Sessions was nominated in 1981 by President Ronald Reagan to be the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama. He was elected state attorney general in 1995 and joined the Senate two years later.

The last time he faced Senate confirmation, things did not go well.

In 1986, the Judiciary Committee voted against confirming him for a federal judgeship after he was accused of making racially charged remarks while U.S. attorney in Alabama. Sessions later withdrew from consideration.

According to transcripts of the hearings, Sessions was accused of calling the NAACP and the ACLU “un-American, Communist-inspired organizations,” joking that he thought was the Ku Klux Klan “was OK” until he learned they smoked marijuana, and calling a black assistant U.S. attorney “boy.”

Sessions’ record as a U.S. attorney was heavily criticized by then-Sen. Edward Kennedy, a Democrat, who said he was unqualified to be a federal judge because of his attitude toward black people.

Mr. Sessions is a throwback to a shameful era which I know both black and white Americans thought was in our past. It is inconceivable to me that a person of this attitude is qualified to be a U.S. attorney, let alone a U.S. federal judge,” Kennedy said. “He is, I believe, a disgrace to the Justice Department and he should withdraw his nomination and resign his position.”

During the hearing, Sessions denied making some of the comments and said others were jokes that had been taken out of context. He said he didn’t mean any harm by the comment about the NAACP.

Associated Press writers ERIC TUCKER, EILEEN SULLIVAN and CHAD DAY contributed to this report.d)

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Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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  • BIG GUY November 18, 2016 at 1:43 pm

    The source for this article is obviously the main stream media and constitutes a “hit job” on Sen. Sessions. An equivalent article about Obama or Holder or Lynch with an intent to highlight problems and issues in their backgrounds–and their are plenty to choose from–would be called racist by the liberal media. Had Hilary Clinton been elected, only wonderful things about her Attorney General nominee would be discussed in a liberal main stream media article.

    Almost any politician in the public eye for decades has things in his/her background which can be highlighted negatively. But one would think that after November 8th, both Democrats and the main stream media (but I repeat myself) would have learned something about the significant majority of voters who no longer trust or believe them.

    For the benefit of liberals tempted to refer to Hilary’s popular vote total, I point out that Republicans swept to stunning margins of victory in state elections where they hold governorships and control of both legislative houses in 29 states. (Democrats hold six, the others are split.) Trump’s victory was exceeded by Republican candidates at the state level and can be taken as a tangible evidence of voters’ rejection of Democrat policies. Democrats have become the party of big cities only where they have been captured by the liberal elite, main steam media, public employee unions and by their own fixation on identity politics and grievances.

  • Utahguns November 18, 2016 at 3:09 pm

    Big Guy has absolutely hit it on the head!

    The media continues to talk about America becoming more “divisive”.
    However, when you look deeper, it’s the liberal left who’s driving in the wedge. It’s the doctrines of Saul Alinski, with the backing of Obama, Clinton, Reid, Pelosi, DeBlasio, Schummer and Warren in action here.

    Democrats want an enslaved populus, an America who will have no say, no opinions, no efforts to preserve the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

    Look at what Obama has said over the last couple of days regarding the violent post election protests…“I’d rather see them err on the side of protest activism than being passive.” So instead of being the leader he should be and discourage the violence, he’s encouraging these liberal left wing organizations to “act and speak out”.

    Obama has defended these groups that sprung from high-profile incidents of police killings. He said in October those communities’ grievances must be taken seriously, and agreed on the notion that organizations like Black Lives Matter “could be” anti-police.

    We are going to support Trump to 1. Drain the swamp and 2. Make America great again.
    We will not burn or disgrace the American Flag, we will not harm our law enforcement or military, we will not vandalize fellow citizens or burn down our neighborhoods.

    We will work with and support Donald Trump and his administration to make America great again and will support this effort with our First Amendment rights, our votes as well as our Second Amendment rights.

  • Henry November 18, 2016 at 4:00 pm

    Having been opposed by the drunken, lying misogynist Teddy Kennedy should be grounds enough for automatic confirmation of Jeff Sessions.

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