PART ONE: DC- January 10 (Quotes are not always verbatim – but close as I can manage listening and writing at the same time. I do not use quotation marks unless I am pretty sure they are close to accurate – in case of doubt, we’ll have to check official record, when available.)
COMMENTARY: Senator Grassley could not have been more gracious and complimentary of the Senator who “has served with us since 1997” and “this body has relied on him…”
“He has done his duty,” like the good Eagle Scout he is. He will shed his role of writing the law and taking on the duty of enforcing it – Grassley reminded the committee that he has taken up the role of enforcement before. He predicts Session will enforce the law without respect to persons. He will be a good leader enforcing the laws faithfully. “This is a simple and foundational principle.” Grassley is complaining about the failure of the present Justice dept. to enforce laws it does not like.
Grassley says he looks forward to hearing how Sessions will transition. He says that Sessions in the past has sought assurances from nominees that former AG candidates that came before the Judiciary Committee.
COMMENTARY: If Grassley is not sincere, if this committee is not going to confirm this nomination, I will be be exceedingly shocked. But I am here to hear and watch and report to you because his enemies will be watching and listening to find ways to criticize.
Grassley in summary: “He is a man of honor and integrity and faithful to the law.”
Feinstein: Introduces Dreamer Denise Rohah; Maxine Waters, and a ministerial delegation all from L.A. She says she knows Sessions and has committed to him in private to support him, but this committee hearing will be thorough and fair. His job will be to enforce federal law equally for all Americans even if he voted against the law when it was passed.
She says the AG does not investigate or prosecute at the direction of the President. “That model has failed.”
COMMENTARY: Is Feinstein referring to Obama and Holder/Lynch?
Lincoln’s AG said his job was to uphold the law, not be political.
She goes on to preach about the role of the AG – to make sure “this government follows the law – and never tortures again.”
Deep Concern – she says Mrs. Evelyn Turner “I am very troubled by his stance against equal rights even in the recent past…no evidence he has change…advocated for an extreme conservative stance.” Turner lays out all Sessions “bad votes.”
Commentary: So this list of BAD VOTES comes after a lecture telling us that the AG is not political – interesting how it flips. If politics is to be put aside, why doesn’t Feinstein. Although she is reading the letter from Turner – she must agree. I wonder if she really will vote for Sessions. Ultimately we must derterminde if Senator Session can be the AG for all the people…there is a deep fear about what a Trump adminsitration will bring to this country…” Also will people be able to rely on the AG’s office to protect rights. She cites hundreds of letters from civil rights and feminist groups. Her bottom line, will he be able to detach himself from this President?”
Sen. Richard Shelby, Sr. Sen. from Alabama introducing Sessions: Says Shelby, Allegations against Sessions are baseless.
Code Pink demonstrator is removed.
Sen. Susan Collins – many disagreements on policy; has come to know him as a person of integrity; principled leader and has worked across the aisle to work with Kennedy to pass the prison rape prevention act; says Sessions is with her in opposing unfair trade agreements and practices that hurt American workers; also says Jeff Session is the same fair modest person in private as in public. She has never witnessed anything to suggest that he is anything other than a dedicated public servant and decent man. They joined the Senate together and apparently like each other.
She gave a long list of examples of his fairness with respect to race. She wants to point out something I mentioned yesterday, to wit, Senator Spector’s change of heart with respect to his vote against Sessions. Upon his change of parties from Republican to Democrat, a reporter asked him this: “Do you regret any of your past votes as a Republican?” Out of thousands, maybe tens of thousands of votes he could only name one regret – his vote against Session’s nomination for District Judge 31 years ago.
Sessions is sworn in. (His grandchildren are in the room and they are adorable) He introduces his family. His daughter Ruth is married to a man named Wouk if I hear right and appears to be Asian. He has 4 children and ten grandchildren. The oldest is nine.
Every major law enforcement officer’s association has endorsed him – Sessions is expressing sorrow for the loss of LE members who lost their lives in service yesterday.
Statement: Interrupted by black protesters – one looks familiar. He thanks Shelby and Collins for kind introductions. The 3 senators have served together for 3 years
Another protester: “You’re a pig; stop these fascist pigs from getting in power.”
Sessions thanks Trump for nomination and expresses humility. “You know who I am; you know what I believe in; I revere the Constitution, the rule of law, fairness and impartiality. Goes on to say the same things Grassley and Feinstein say the job of an AG is… and he adds, even when telling the President what the law is, the job of the AG is to tell him the truth; “the message must be clear, everyone is expected to do their duty.”
He talks about the way Ed Meese ran the department and how he himself trained Federal Attorneys.
Concerned with the jump in murders and all crime – up over 4% in the last two years; murders increased 11 percent to the highest rate since 1991.
COMMENTARY: This is more important than discussing racism – Americans want domestic tranquility. Further, one cannot defend one’s self against such charges. I know, you can ask me about this. Proving you didn’t do something is hard, proving you don’t think something is even harder.
He is honoring law enforcement today at the hear, as the number in the audience shows, and they are honoring him – he’s calling for more support for LE and he is assuring them that they will have his support. Talks about the research, expertise, and training to help state and local LE to reduce crime.
He is going to work to make the job of Justice to root out fraud and false claims as well as contracting fraud. His commitment is to see that the laws are enforced faithfully. No one is above the law or beneath its protection.
Sessions now being questioned by Sheldon Whitehouse D-Rhode Island. Sessions defends Justice Department interpretation of fraudulent speech as not protected speech.
Whitehouse wants to know if the Trump campaign violated the law vis a vis Russian hacking, will do his duty as AG. Sessions answers it well.
Sessions says he did not chant “lock her up” at rallies; he says he favored a special prosecutor at the time accusations were made against HC during the campaign. He has already said he will recuse himself if HC is charged by the Justice Department.
Whitehouse says he represents a lot of Latinos and police chiefs who worry that Trump’s policies might disrupt community relations that took decades to create.
123Sessions defends his previous remarks about the NAACP were positive and laudatory. But with regard to their support of pro-Sandinista forces during the Cold war, he said they could damage the good reputation they had developed over the years by supporting anti-American policies.
He also defends his commentary on our immigration policies today that are not skill-based.
Grassley: Notes from the evaluation of Session’s office back in 1992; USAO of the Southern District of Alabama was found to be exemplary as well as other letters of support.
Senator Mike Lee R – Utah “You taught me a lot over the years.”
COMMENTARY: Lee seems a bi nervous…
Lee wants to discuss the role of the lawyer – a simple thing when you are representing an individual – client has one voice; more complicated with a corporate client; in the case of the US government and the AG’s representation of that client – it’s complicated. AG serves at the pleasure of the President but at the same time, he has an obligation to be independent who provide independent analysis. How do you see this?
Sessions: AG sometimes has to referee between agencies. Ultimately, he has to be loyal to the Constitution. Every AG is appointed by a President; confirmed by the Senate. Ultimate loyalty to the President means the AG tells him if something can be done and if it can be done, to help him do it Constitutionally.
Lee: Special Prosecutor allows for a sensitive question to be handled without question of conflicts of interest. AG has to decide when a special prosecutor is appointed. How would you see your role here?
Sessions: AG should not appoint SPs willy nilly. Sessions did criticize AG Lynch for not appointing a special prosecutor in the case of HC – but he was a politician in the middle of a campaign and not an AG studying all the ramifications of the situation.
Lee: Duty of independence re: the Office of legal counsel. Good to see you
Sen. Amy Klobuchar D – Minn. Asks for explanation of Session’s views of Voting Rights Act
Sessions: VR Act was adopted after findings of documented systematic denial of voting rights.
AK – What about Voter I.D. laws?
Sessions: I have said I think properly drafted voter ID laws are Constitutional but I have not studied this issue. SC has said that targeting only a few states being covered by the VR Act and found section 5 to be unconstitutional.
AK says she is concerned with laws that make it harder for people to vote. She thinks the more we can do to encourage people to vote the better. She was on a trip with McCain and Graham to Ukraine and how unfair practices can influence elections. Asks if he believes the reports of our intelligence agencies.
SESSIONS: No reason not to.
AK: Asks if he will continue to support efforts to stop violence against women.
AK Immigration question because Minn has benefitted economically.
Sessions: Bringing in more workers than we have jobs for will have a negative impact on people and the nation. Corporate interests cannot be put first.
AK We are a country of Immigrants
(Another disruptive protestor)
Sessions: Look at Canada’s immigration laws based on skills.
AK: Concern about journalists and charges against them; Justice department has said they will not put reporters in jail for doing their jobs.
Sessions: I have not studied the new rules but in the 80’s we knew you could not subpoena reporters without the highest level of scrutiny. But you could have a situation where the media is not unbiased and is involved in illegal activities.
Ben Sasse R @BenSasse – Nebraska He includes into the record a statement from AG’s of 25 states in support of Sessions. Speaks of a crisis of confidence caused by a president saying he can’t do things and then doing them and thus creating doubt about the value of oaths of office. Things aren’t working according to School House Rock lyrics.
Sessions – “Every day we get away from that is a problem.” The belief that Judges can redefine the meaning of words based on their political opinions.
Sasse – Congress has underrated and invited the Executive to over-reach.
Sessions – Turley has written about this – we write laws that are too broad; the law should be clear and set limits. Fidelity to law and limits is important.
Sasse – when can the AG declined to prosecute? If the DOJ says a tax can’t be collected, then the law is not followed. Talking about improper actions…What is proper prosecutorial discretion?
Sessions – Critics of immigration said the failure to enforce DACA and other immigration laws – He says that is over-reach. The Solicitor General states the position of the DOJ and defends the law. The only time the DOJ can stand down unless the law cannot be “reasonably defended.”
Sasse – wants a stop to fines being given to third parties.
Sessions – It’s a very dubious process – not the best way to settle cases.
Sasse – How will you rein in independent executive agencies?
Sessions – This is an historic question. Sometimes even Presidents hide behind the independence of agencies.
Sasse – What is the role of the of OLC?
Sessions – OLC has a statutory duty to make opinions; The AG can remove the head if they are not following the law; they render opinions on all kinds of matters, to school boards, law enforcement agencies, etc. They should be objective; ultimately it is the AG and President who make sure it is objective.
Al Franken D – Minn. Quoting from Sessions interview in 2009 in which he said he filed 20 or 30 desegregation cases. Sessions’ office says he filed “a number.” Frankel wants to know which is correct?
Sessions – has checked the records and while there may be more than 20 individuals sued but the individual cases do not add up to 20; some cases were brought before I was the AG and some continued after I left.
Franken spends a good bit of his time defending the Somali refugees in his state and the fact that the children born there are citizens of the United States. He creates a straw man out of some remarks Sessions has made about the Refugee Resettlement program and goes on about
Al Franken – List of cases Sessions says he personally handled 4 de-segregation cases – 3 lawyers who worked on these cases say he had “no substantive involvement.”
Sessions – one of those was Hebret who has stated that I supported and helped etc. Paul Hancock says the AG claims credit for all cases under his jurisdiction.
Al – just signing a paper could not be really “handling a case.” Lawyer Rich says he worked on one case and Sessions had no input into the case. This is one you claim as one of the top 10 cases.
Sessions: Hebret in 1986 – “We have had difficulty in bringing cases in the past but not with Sessions; i have been able to go to him and he has an open door policy; and yet I have needed Mr. Sessions help in these cases and he has helped me every step of the way; I have had more active help with him and i have worked side by side with him. This was 30 years ago and my memory is my source of information for this.
Al – When I hear “I filed a case” it sounds to me like “I led the case” or “I supervised the case” it does not mean I just put my name on it. I think we need an AG who does not inflate his involvement. I consider this important.
Sessions – I provided assistance and guidance and supported these cases and attempted to be as helpful as possible to these historic cases. I listed these because they were the most important.
Franken spends a good bit of his time defending the Somali refugees in his state and the fact that the children born there are citizens of the United States. He creates a straw man out of some remarks Sessions has made about the Refugee Resettlement program and goes on about how refugees are having trouble because of people who are not welcoming – implication, people like Sessions.
All Sessions says is his remarks were not aimed at the people Franken was talking about.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-AZ — says they differ on immigration but has a column in The Hill supporting Sessions nomination. Asks about zero tolerance policy in AZ for illegal border crossers, especially in the Yuma area. Holder and Lynch have put a stop to this with respect to otherwise non-criminal illegal crossers.
Sessions – Supported the streamlined no-tolerance policy which was dramatically effective; my inclination at this point makes me think it has great possibilities.
Flake – put pro-victim rights group supporting letters into the record and asks about Sessions position.
Sessions – very supportive of victim’s rights and rights of prisoners not to be raped or abused in prison. “We do not need to subject prisoners to any more punishment than the law requires.”
Flake – will you commit to work against duplicative grants to LE.?
Sessions – yes, I am committed to protecting taxpayers against this kind of thing.
Sen. Chuck Grassley – discusses the fight he and Sessions made to keep the L-Visa and H1B visas from hurting American workers. They opposed the Gang of Eight’s Amnesty programs. They signed a letter requesting Obama administration investigate companies like Disney mis-using visas to replace American workers which is against the law. Grassley says what has been happening could be characterized as nationality-based discrimination.
Sessions says he has been happy to help with Grassley’s legislation. That it is wrong to see every American job as fair game to anyone in the world willing to do it cheaper.
Grassley asks Sessions what role he can play in affirming the good that law enforcement does. Sessions answers that this is an important area and one that he wants to work on – that we cannot afford not to support our law enforcement.
Grassley then takes up the question of agriculture. He is concerned that there are few people in the DOJ who knows anything about agriculture. He is concerned about increased concentration. He wants Sessions to make agri-business anti-trust cases a priority. Finally he wants emphasis on dealing with fraud.
Sessions says Grassley’s work in this area is important; he congratulated him for his work to help whistle-blowers and try to stop fraud. He wants Sessions to regularly update him on fraud cases.
Finally he wants Sessions to tell people his reasons for opposing the 2013 amnesty law.
Sessions says he opposed the 2013 amnesty bill because the 1986 bill did not work and there was no reason to think the 2013 bill would work. Sessions would like to be a part of efforts to reform immigration.
Grassley wants to fight fraud and abuse in the Violence Against Women Act. He wanted tougher sentencing for forcible rape. He wants to know if Sessions will enforce the bill as passed. Sessions says he will.
Grassley is concerned about the Board of Immigration Appeals which can only be overturned by the AG or Federal Court. Asks Sessions to monitor this court. And he agrees to do so.
Congress cannot do all the oversight on its own. We need to rely on strong Inspector Generals. Do you agree that independence is important to the effectiveness of the IG’s?
Sessions: Yes the Independence should be expected and strengthened. IG’s are appointed by the agencies but if they are not seen as independent, then they cannot be as effective as we want them to be. I believe in IG’s.
Grassley is concerned about the bad treatment whistleblowers get – he hopes Sessions will pay attention to and encourage whistleblowers. They should not have to come to the Judiciary committee – they should be listened to in their own agencies. Wants timely action and reports about whistleblowers, action taken, and retaliation if any.
Grassley says the record will be kept open until Monday.
COMMENTARY: Grassley seems extremely supportive of Sessions and his policies.
After the session Grassley met with the press. Questions asked include:
Q. “Will Sessions be confirmed?”
A. “By law, after January 20 and even one member can “hold it over.”
Q. “Sen. Blumenthal asked if Sessions has received an award from the Klan. Is that appropriate?
A. “It’s his decision what he asks. Nothing in Session’s demeanor seemed to indicate he thought any of the questions were out of order.”
A. “Why are the outside witnesses put to the end?”
Q. “Because they were added by the Democrats after the original agenda was put together.”