Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for attorney general, was under intense questioning and struggled to say how he would enforce the law going forward. But Senator Al Franken is not letting Sessions gaslight the Judiciary Committee about his civil rights record during hearings this week.
Getting right down to business, Franken asked Sessions about his grand claims to the National Review in 2009 in defense of his civil rights record, in which he claimed he “filed 20 or 30 civil rights cases to desegregate schools and political organizations and county commissions when I was United States attorney,” Sessions said.
“So 20 or 30 desegregation cases. Did I misread that quote?” Franken asks.
“I believe that’s what I have been quoted as saying. I suspect I said that,” Sessions replies.
Franken pressed on:
“In November — your office said when Senator Sessions was U.S. Attorney he filed a number of desegregation lawsuits in Alabama. Not 20 or 30 this time, but a number. Tell me, did you file 20 or 30 desegregation cases, or is it some other number?”
Sessions didn’t offer any good answers for Franken who masterfully exposed the fact that Session’s claims on his Judiciary Committee Questionnaire response wildly inflate his role in the cases cited.
“Well, It is important, first, to be accurate,” says Sessions.
“The records don’t show that there were 20 or 30 actually filed cases. Some of the cases involve multiple defendants and multiple parties like to a school board and a county commission being sued for racial discrimination or things of that nature, but the number would be less than that, as we’ve looked at.”
Franken then asks what would have led him to say “20 or 30” if that number was inaccurate. Sessions said he doesn’t know.
Next, Franken asks Sessions about some of the cases from his questionnaire submitted to the committee — in an op-ed in the Washington Post the lead attorneys on several of those cases denied Sessions had a significant role, some never even met him.
“You originally said you personally handled three of these cases,” says Franken, “but these lawyers say that you had no substantive involvement. Chairman Grassley, I would ask that that op-ed from last Tuesday’s Washington Post be entered into the record. Without objection, it will be entered. Are they distorting your record here?”
Sessions finally concedes that, yes, at least one of the writers is distorting the record, that he had spent a lot of time in his office and actually raved about the support Sessions gave him.
The op-ed which that civil rights attorney co-authored begins:
Attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions is trying to mislead his Senate colleagues, and the country, into believing he is a champion for civil rights. We are former Justice Department civil rights lawyers who worked on the civil rights cases that Sessions cites as evidence for this claim, so we know: The record isn’t Sessions’s to burnish. We won’t let the nominee misstate his civil rights history to get the job of the nation’s chief law enforcement officer.
Watch the exchange below: