Trump's Justice Dept. pick fights racist claims

 11 Jan 2017 - 12:22

Trump's Justice Dept. pick fights racist claims
Photo: AA.

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WASHINGTON: Sen. Jeff Sessions, President-elect Donald Trump's choice to lead the Justice Department, sought to cast himself on Tuesday as an impartial leader while seeking to dispel past allegations of racial bias that stymied past aspirations.

The allegations cost the veteran senator a 1986 appointment from former President Ronald Reagan to a post on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama. Several colleagues testified then that he had made racially offensive comments, including calling a black colleague "boy", and positive remarks about the Ku Klax Klan.

"These are damnably false charges," Sessions said during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"I abhor the Klan and what it represents and its hateful ideology," he added.

More broadly he said that America must not revert to the segregationist policies of the south in the pre-Civil Rights Movement era, stressing "we can never go back".

Sessions' nomination has been met with fierce criticism from rights groups that say he poses a threat to minority rights, including those of immigrants, blacks, and the LGBT community.

Seeking to cast an image of himself as a law and order attorney general, Sessions said he would recuse himself from any potential investigation into Hillary Clinton, citing his political rhetoric against the Democratic nominee during last year's campaign.

"I do believe that that could place my objectivity in question," he said.

Sessions said the attorney general "cannot be a mere rubber stamp" for the president, and if he believes Trump has run afoul of U.S. law he would stand on the side of the law.

"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 said. 

Switching to the controversial military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Sessions said the facility "should be utilized" as a protester yelled "No! In the name of humanity".

The demonstrator, like others throughout the hearing were escorted out by Capitol Police.

Still, Sessions acknowledged that waterboarding, one of the interrogation practices that attracted strong criticism under former President George W. Bush, is "absolutely" improper and illegal under U.S. law.

Those comments stand in stark contrast to Trump's stated preference to bring back the practice that many have said amounts to torture.

And on Trump's proposed ban of Muslims from the U.S., Sessions said he did not support such a policy, which Trump himself later revised to include people from countries with histories of terrorism.

"I have no belief and do not support the idea that Muslims, as a religious group, should be denied admission to the United States," he said.

Sessions has served in the Senate since 1996, and has throughout that time been a staunchly conservative voice.