Press Release - Top Moments from Today's Hearing on Sen. Sessions' U.S. Attorney General Nomination
GRASSLEY: "Our hearing today hardly introduces Senator Sessions to the Committee. No, we're here today to review the character and qualifications of a colleague who has served alongside us in the Senate for twenty years. That includes time as the Ranking Member of this Committee. We know him well. We know the policy positions he has taken as a legislator. I've been on both sides of debates with Senator Sessions. Having served with him for so long we pretty well know whether he supports your policy positions or opposes them. He tells us so with thoughtfulness, humility, and respect. As a former Chairman of this Committee has put it, Senator Sessions is 'wonderful to work with.' We know him to be, as another senior Democrat on this Committee described him, 'a man of his word.' As a third senior Democrat colleague put it, "he is always a gentleman'; 'he is straightforward and fair.'
"Most of all, the Members of this Committee know him to be a leader who has served the people of Alabama-and all Americans- with integrity, dedication, and courage.
"As former Chairman Leahy observed the last time a new President took office, it's 'important that the Justice Department have its senior leadership in place without delay. . . . We need the Justice Department to be at its best.' Perhaps my good friend Senator Schumer said it best when he observed that we should 'move to a vote, hopefully sooner rather than later.' And when we do, as he said, we 'won't be voting for or against the President's policies.' Instead, we'll be voting for a colleague with a first-rate legal mind whose record proves his commitment to just law enforcement and eminently qualifies him to lead the Department of Justice.
"I've been encouraged by the initial support many of our colleagues on both sides of the aisle have expressed for Senator Sessions' nomination. So I look forward to hearing from Senator Sessions and moving to his confirmation without delay.
"Senator Sessions' record is a life of public service. And so we know his story. He was raised in the small town of Hybart, Alabama, where his father owned and ran a small country store. He then studied at Huntingdon College and the University of Alabama before practicing law in Russellville and Mobile. Senator Sessions has always been an active member of his community. He taught school before attending law school and taught Sunday School at Ashland Place Methodist Church. He served our Nation in the Army Reserve, attaining the rank of Captain.
"After his time in private practice, Senator Sessions served as an Assistant United States Attorney in the Southern District of Alabama. He then headed that office after the Senate confirmed him as United States Attorney, a post he held for a dozen years. All told, that's 15 years as a federal prosecutor in the Department.
"It was during that time that he oversaw the investigation of Klansman Francis Hays for the brutal abduction and murder of a black teenager, Michael Donald. He made sure that case was brought in state court where the defendant was eligible for and received the punishment he justly deserved, the death penalty. His office then successfully prosecuted that murderer's accomplice in federal court.
"Based on his prosecutorial record, the people of Alabama elected him their Attorney General and then their Senator. He has served with us since 1997. And, as our former Chairman observed, this Committee has relied on him for his prosecutorial experience during the course of his Senate service.
"Throughout his public service, both within the Department and outside of it, he has raised his hand and served when called upon. He has done his duty, enforced the law fairly, and let the chips fall where they may.
"Reflecting on this record of service, it's no surprise that Senator Sessions is also an Eagle Scout. Other members of this Committee may know, as I do, that the Scouts' motto-"Be Prepared"-sits on his desk in his Senate office.
"Senator Sessions' entire life of dedicated public service has prepared him for this day. If he's confirmed-and I expect he will be-Senator Sessions will shed his role as a legislator who writes our laws and he'll take on the task of enforcing the laws Congress has written. He has made this transition before, when the people of the State of Alabama elected him their Senator based on his record of service as United States Attorney and Attorney General there.
"As one Member of this Committee observed about a lawyer's transition into the role of a judge: 'There are turning points in a person's life when they put away things of the past and move into new responsibilities.' Serving as our Nation's Attorney General will mark another such turning point in Senator Sessions' distinguished career.
"And every Member of this Committee knows from experience that, in his new role, Senator Sessions will be a leader for law and order administered without regard to person.
"Leadership to that end is exactly what the Department now needs. It should go without saying that the Department is tasked with the responsibility of enforcing our laws-ALL of our laws- in a dispassionate and even-handed way.
"We write the laws. The Executive enforces them, faithfully. This is a simple but foundational principle.
"Unfortunately, for the last several years the Department has simply declined to enforce some laws the Executive branch found distasteful. The Department's failure to enforce the law has run the gamut of issues from criminal law legislation to our nation's duly enacted immigration laws.
"It's true that each branch of government has an independent duty to assess the constitutionality of the laws it writes, administers, or adjudicates. But it's equally true that the Executive has a constitutional responsibility to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed." I know our colleague Senator Sessions respects the legislative process and the prerogative of Congress to write the law. As he explained during the confirmation hearing we held for John Ashcroft's nomination to serve as Attorney General, "The Attorney General is a law enforcer. There is a big difference between a politician and a Senator where we vote on policy and executing policy.
"I look forward to hearing from Senator Sessions on how he will transition from voting on policy matters to enforcing the laws he has labored so long to improve and sustain.
"Just as he respects Congress's duly enacted laws, Senator Sessions knows and respects the importance of an independent Attorney General at the Department's helm. When he has questioned other candidates for the office of Attorney General, he has made plain the priority of an Attorney General's independence.
SHELBY: "Although my friend and colleague, Jeff Sessions, is well known to the members of this committee, it's my distinct privilege to introduce him as president-elect Donald Trump's nominee to serve as our next United States attorney general.
"Before joining the Senate, Jeff sessions began his distinguished career as a practicing attorney, and then served as the United States attorney for Alabama's Southern district, before ultimately becoming the attorney general of the state of Alabama.
"During the past 20 years here in the U.S. Senate that I have served with Jeff Sessions, I've had the opportunity to know him well, not just as a skilled attorney with an accomplished record as a prosecutor and as a legislator, but a man of extraordinary character. I have the highest regard, not only for his intellect, but for his integrity.
"Unfortunately, since the announcement of his nomination, Jeff's political opponents have attacked his character with baseless and tired allegations, but in reality, Jeff Sessions' extensive record of treating all-Americans equally under the law is clear and well documented.
"Throughout his decades of public service, including his impressive tenure on this committee, Jeff's commitment to upholding the rule of law I believe is unparalleled. The integrity, humility and gravity with which Jeff Sessions will approach the Office of Attorney General of the United States is unquestionable. I have no doubt, Mr. Chairman, that he will apply the law with the impartiality required of the job. I'm also confident this committee will report favorably and expeditiously, Jeff Sessions' nomination to be the next attorney general of the United States."
COLLINS: "I am pleased to join Senator Shelby in presenting my friend and colleague senator Jeff Sessions and to offer my support for his nomination to be our next attorney general.
"Jeff Sessions and I were first sworn in to the United States Senate on the very same day. In the 20 years since, we have worked closely on some issues and on opposite sides on others. In fact, it would be fair to say that we have had our share of vigorous debates and policy disagreements.
"Through these experiences, I have come to know Senator Sessions professionally as a trusted colleague and personally as a good friend. I can vouch confidently for the fact those Jeff sessions is a person of integrity, a principled leader, and a dedicated public servant.
"As a senator, Jeff Sessions has worked across the aisle to lead important legislative reforms. He's worked with Senator Dick Durbin to pass the Fair Sentencing Act, a law that addressed the unfair racial disparity in crack cocaine sentencing. He worked with Senator Ted Kennedy to pass the Prison Rape Elimination Act. And with Senator Chris Coons on the reauthorization of the Victims of Child Abuse Act, an area where Senator Sessions and I have worked together is in opposing unfair trade agreements and practices that hurt American workers.
"What I want this committee and the American people to know, is that Jeff Sessions is the same genuine, fair-minded person in the unguarded private moments as he is in the halls of the Senate. We first came to know each other during dinners with other members of our Senate class, where we discussed everything from our politics to our families.
"I have never witnessed anything to suggest that Senator Sessions is anyone other than a dedicated public servant and a decent man. In 1980, long before he ran for the Senate or even dreamed of being attorney general, Jeff Sessions sponsored the first African-American member of the Mobile Lions Club. As U.S. attorney, he provided leadership and the successful convictions of two Klan members who had murdered an African-American teenager.
"As Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2009, he appointed the first African-American to serve as chief counsel to the Republican members. My friends, these are not the actions of an individual who is motivated by racial animus. In spite of his strong record, Senator Sessions nomination has generated controversy. He has had to withstand some very painful attacks on his characters, both years ago and again today, with little or no acknowledgment of his accomplishments and actions, or the responses he has made to the accusations levied against him.
"As this committee debates this nomination, I would draw your attention to an important epilogue to Jeff Sessions nomination 31 years ago to be a federal judge. The late Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania was a member of the judiciary committee when the Sessions nomination was considered in 1986. Senator Specter, then a Republican, voted against Jeff Sessions.
"Years later, in 2009, Senator Specter had switched parties. He was asked by a reporter if he regretted any of the more than 10,000 votes he had cast. Out of all of those votes, then Democratic Senator Specter sited just one. It was his vote against confirming Jeff Sessions as a federal judge.
"When asked why, Senator Specter replied, quote, 'because I have since found that Senator Sessions is Egalitarian.', end quote. In other words, once Senator Specter served with Jeff Sessions and had the opportunity to get to know him, he changed his mind.
"I hope that you will keep Arlen Specter's reflections in mind, as this committee evaluates Senator Sessions' public service, his character and his fidelity to the rule of law."
SESSIONS: "Let me address another issue straight on. I was accused in 1986 of failing to protect the voting rights of African-Americans by presenting the Perry County case, the voter fraud case, and of condemning civil rights advocates and organizations and even harboring, amazingly, sympathies for the KKK.
"These (inaudible) false charges. The voter fraud case my office prosecuted was in response to pleas from African-American incumbent elected officials who claimed that the absentee ballot process involved a situation in which ballots cast for them were stolen, altered and cast for their opponents. The prosecution sought to protect the integrity of the ballot, not to block voting. It was a voting rights case.
"As to the KKK, I invited civil rights attorneys from Washington, D.C. to help us solve a very difficult investigation into the unconscionable, horrendous death of a young African-American coming home from the 7-Eleven store at night simply because he was black. His -- Michael O'Donnell -- and actively backed the attorneys throughout the case and they broke that case.
"That effort led to a guilty plea and a life sentence in court for one defendant and his testimony against this other defendant. There was no federal death penalty at the time. I felt the death penalty was appropriate in this case and I pushed to have it tried in state court, which was done. That defendant was indeed convicted and sentenced to death.
"And 10 years later, ironically, as Alabama's attorney general, my staff participated in the defense of that verdict and sentence, and a few months after, I became a United States senator and that murdering klansman was indeed executed.
"I abhor the Klan and what it represents and its hateful ideology. I insisted Morris Dees of the Southern Poverty Law Center and his lawsuit that led to the successful collapse of the Klan at least in Alabama, the seizure of their building, at least for that period of time.
"As civil rights division attorneys have testified before the committee, I supported fully their historic cases that the Justice Department filed to advance civil rights and that I supported, including cases to desegregate schools, abolish at-large elections for cities, county commissions and school boards.
"These at-large elections were a mechanism used to block African- American candidates from being able to be elected to boards and commissions. It was deliberate and part of a systemic plan to reduce the ability of African-Americans to have influence in the election and governing process.
"I never declared the NAACP was un-American or that a civil rights attorney was a disgrace to his race. There is nothing I am more proud of than my 14 years of service in the Department of Justice. I love and venerate that great institution. I hold dear its highest ideals. As God gives me the ability, I will work every day to be worthy of the demands of this august office.
"You can be absolutely sure that I understand the immense responsibility I would have. I am not naive. I know the threat that our rising crime and addiction rates pose to the health and safety of our country. I know the threat of terrorism. I deeply understand the history of civil rights in our country and the horrendous impact that relentless and systemic discrimination and the denial of voting rights has had on our African-American brothers and sisters. I have witnessed it.
"We must continue to move forward and never back. I understand the demands for justice and fairness made by our LGBT community. I will ensure that the statutes protecting their civil rights and their safety are fully enforced.
"I understand the lifelong scars worn by women who are victims of assault and abuse. And if I am so fortunate to be confirmed as your attorney general, you can know that I understand the absolute necessity, that all my actions must fall within the bounds of the Constitution and the laws of the United States. While all humans must recognize the limits of their abilities, and I certainly do, I am ready for this job. We will do it right. Your input will be valued. Local law enforcement will be our partners. Many friends in federal government that I've had in law enforcement will be respected.
"I've always loved the law. It is the very foundation of this country. It is the exceptional foundation of America. I have an abiding commitment to pursuing and achieving justice and a record of doing that. And if confirmed, I will give all my efforts to this goal. I only ask that you do your duty as God gives you the ability to see that duty as your charge by the Constitution."
SESSIONS: "That is the kind of thing that too often happens. We need to be sure that when we criticize law officers, it is narrowly focused on the right basis for criticism and to smear whole departments, places those officers at greater risk.
"And we are seeing an increase in murder of police officers, it was up 10 percent last year. So I could just say, I could feel -- I could feel in my bones, how it was going to play out in the real world when we had, what I thought often times, was legitimate criticism of a perhaps, wrong doing by an officer. But spilling over to a condemnation of our entire police force and morale has been affected.
"And its impacted the crime rates in Baltimore and crime rates in Chicago. I don't think there's any doubt about it. I regret that's happening, I think it can be restored. But we need to understand the requirement that the police work with the community and be respectful of their community, but we as a nation, need to respect our law officers too."
SESSIONS: "I want to thank President-elect Donald Trump for the confidence and trust he has shown in me by nominating me to serve as the Attorney General of the United States. I feel the weight of an honor greater than I aspired to. If I am confirmed, I will commit to you and to the American people to be worthy of the office and the special trust that comes with it.
"So, I come before you today as a colleague, who's worked with you for years -- and some of you 20 years. You know who I am, you know what I believe in, you know that I'm a man of my word and can be trusted to do what I say I will do. You know that I revere the Constitution, that I'm committed to the rule of law. And you know that I believe in fairness, impartiality and equal justice under law.
"Over the years, you've heard me say many times that I love the Department of Justice. The Office of Attorney General of the United States is not a normal political office and anyone who holds it must have totally fidelity to the laws and the Constitution of the United States.
"He or she must be committed to following the law. He or she must be willing to tell the president or other top officials if -- no if he or they overreach. He or she cannot be a mere rubber stamp. He or she must set the example for the employees of the department to do the right thing and ensure that when they do the right thing they know the attorney general will back them up.
"No matter what politician might call or what powerful special interest, influential contributor or friend might try to intervene. The message must be clear, everyone is expected to do their duty. That is the way I was expected to perform as an assistant United States attorney working for Attorney General Meese in part of my career.
"And that is the way I trained my assistants when I became United States attorney. And if confirmed, that is the way I will lead the Department of Justice. In my over 14 years in the Department of Justice, I tried cases personally of every kind; drug trafficking, very large international smuggling cases, many firearms cases, other violent crimes, a series of public corruption cases of quite significance, financial wrongdoing and environmental violations.
"Our office supported historic civil rights cases and major civil cases; protecting the people of this country from crime and especially from violent crime is a high calling of the men and women of the Department of Justice."
Donald J. Trump, Press Release - Top Moments from Today's Hearing on Sen. Sessions' U.S. Attorney General Nomination Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/321551