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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Senate Questions Trump's Attorney General Pick; Sessions: "Don't Know" If Millions Of Fraudulent Votes Cast; Jury Sentences Dylann Roof To Death; Sessions: "Factual Basis" To Overturn NC Voter Laws. Aired 4:30-5p ET
Aired January 10, 2017 - 16:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: It's easy for people reading things on the Internet to believe whatever is raised, and passions get hot.
And I know the protesters who stand up and chant KKK, they in all likelihood believe what they're saying, because they're reading and being encouraged on the Internet.
But I have not seen any appointee to the Cabinet, Democrat or Republican, who has a record like you do of prosecuting Klansmen, putting them on death row, bankrupting them and putting them out of business, and doing so, as you have, I will tell you, I admire your doing so.
And I will issue a challenge to our friends in the news media. I noticed every time a protester jumped up, all the photographers took pictures of the protesters. I suspect we're going to see them in all the papers.
I would encourage the news media, cover this story. Tell the story on the 6:00 news about Jeff Sessions helping prosecute a Klansman who had murdered an African-American man and putting him on death row and helped -- and bankrupt him, helping bankrupt the Klan in Alabama. That's a story that needs to be told.
And, Senator Sessions, I thank you for your record. I thank you for your service.
SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R-AL), ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE: Thank you, Senator Cruz.
And I would say it has been very disappointing and painful to have it suggested I think the Klan was OK, when we did everything possible to destroy and defeat and prosecute the Klan members who were involved in this crime. And it was a good joint effort. I was supportive of it every step of the way, and some great lawyers worked very hard on it.
CRUZ: Thank you, sir.
SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), MINNESOTA: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Senator Sessions, just this week, Backpage.com announced that it was taking down the adult services section of its Web site. Senator Cornyn and I led the bill on the Judiciary Committee. You contributed to it, which we appreciate.
And then we also had work by Senator Portman and Senator McCaskill and Heitkamp and others on this issue. We had 48 arrests around the towns of New Ulm and Mankato, Minnesota, alone where Backpage was part of the operation. And so this was a good result. They took the Fifth today in front of Homeland Security while you were testifying.
But I wanted to know what your plans would be. The Justice Department finally came out with the national strategy on sex trafficking, which is part of our bill. And, so, it will be in your hands if you are confirmed as attorney general to implement.
And could you just give me your thoughts on this issue?
SESSIONS: Well, I'm glad that the entire nation seems to be giving priority to this. A lot of great people have given real focus to the problem of sex trafficking and the degradation and destruction that results from it.
So, I think it would be a firm and important part of the Department of Justice's priorities. And I would look forward to following up on the legislative successes and other things that are happening to see if we can't make a real impact against this abominable practice.
KLOBUCHAR: I will say Attorney General Lynch and Deputy Attorney General Yates, as former prosecutors like yourself, they have worked really hard in this areas. So, it would worth talking to them about the work they've done as well.
Antitrust, Senator Lee and I have long chaired that committee. We rotate depending on who is in charge of the Senate as ranking member. I care a lot about this. We're in the midst of a merger wave. Between 2010 and 2015, the number of mergers reported to the government increased over 50 percent from 716 to 1,801.
And over the last 18 months, we have seen substantial mergers in pharmaceutical, agriculture, cable, insurance, beer. Recently, across the political spectrum, there's been a lot of concern about concentration, because you need to have an even playing field if competition is going to flourish. And that means that's better for consumers if you have strong competition.
Will you commit to making vigorous antitrust enforcement a priority? Kind of a sideline to that, there's some concern, based on some of the statements from the president-elect, that maybe certain companies or industries could be targeted depending on if they're in favor or not.
These are not statements that you have made. Could you comment about independence of the attorney general when it comes to considering these cases?
SESSIONS: The antitrust policies of the United States have to be consistent and clear as possible. As you know, that's not always as easy as some people might think. I could say with confidence that you and Senator Lee, as leaders, I
believe, on the Antitrust Subcommittee, I know you are, have been more attune to the details and the special issues that are involved in that section of the Department of Justice.
So, we would work resolutely on it. I have no hesitation to enforce antitrust law. I have no hesitation, if the finding justifies it, to say that certain mergers should not occur, and there will not be political influence in that process.
KLOBUCHAR: Thank you.
I'm going to put a series of other questions on the record. One is on synthetic drugs. We're working hard. Senator Grassley and I have long worked on this issue with Senator Feinstein and Senator Graham. And we have a new bill that we're working on to make it easier to go after synthetic drugs.
And maybe on the record, we could get your comments on that. Drug courts, again, one of my top priorities, I think that they have worked very well in jurisdictions that are devoted to seeing themselves not just as businesses that want to see repeat customers, but getting people off of the treadmill of crime and drugs.
And then a very Minnesota-focused issue, Minnesota was just -- got a designation called HIDTA, for high-intensity drug trafficking. A lot of it is based on heroin and some of the opiate addictions that we have seen. And somehow it was set up so the money came through Wisconsin.
If you know anything about the Vikings-Packers rivalry, this makes our sheriffs very concerned. And so I thought I would maybe just on the record -- again, I'm not going to get into detail -- discuss this with you on the record and ask you some questions about making sure we get our due for the funding for Minnesota.
But the last thing I want to talk about was just the refugee issue. We have the biggest Somali population in the country. Our U.S. attorney and the Justice Department have done an excellent job in taking on some ISIS cases, as well as Al-Shabaab cases, dozens of cases that have been successfully prosecuted.
And we -- I know that work will continue. But what I am -- want that work to continue. We also have -- the vast majority of them are law- abiding and an important part of our community. And, as you know, there has been a lot of anti-Muslim rhetoric out there.
We had -- I heard the story in Minneapolis of a family that went out to eat. They lived in our town forever. They have two little kids and they go out to eat. And this guy walks by and looks at them, and says, "You four, go home. You go home to where you came from."
And the little girl looks up at her mom and she says: "Mom, I don't want to go home. You said we could eat out tonight." And you think of the words of that innocent child, she only knows one home, and that's my state. She only knows one home. And that's America. So, a big part of the job of the attorney general, to me, is not just enforcing those laws as we have in our state against terrorist activities, but it is also protecting the innocents among us.
So, I wonder if you could close your questions from me by commenting about your view of how you would uphold all of our nation's laws, the basic value of religious freedom, but also the protection of people from larger crimes than the remark I just talked about, but actually bullying and those kinds of things, because I just think it has no place in our country.
SESSIONS: Thank you.
That is an important principle that you have touched on, which is the principle that, in America, you're free to exercise your religious beliefs as you deem fit, as long as it doesn't violate established law that would be important.
So, we have that provided for in the Constitution. We can't establish a religion and we can't prohibit free exercise. And I believe, by and large, overwhelmingly, Americans value that principle and support it. And we should always hold it high, and we should not back away from it. And that includes Muslim friends and neighbors, as well as any other religion.
And you are right. Overwhelmingly, there is not violence and radicalism among our Muslim friends and neighbors. And we should not ever think that and treat people in a discriminatory basis.
When people apply to come to the country, it is appropriate, I believe, to vet them from countries that may have had a history of violence to be careful about who we admit, because, basically, the admission process is a process to that should serve the national interest. That's sort of my view about it. I believe it's an acceptable and good view and would try to carry that out.
But the decision about admitting and not admitting is really not the attorney general's view -- decision at all. It is the State Department's.
And it is the policy of the president and the State Department. And, so, we would just simply make sure, if it's done, it's done in a proper fashion and not unlawfully.
KLOBUCHAR: Thank you.
And, Mr. Chairman, I also have some statistics on immigration, in response to some of the first exchanges that Senator Sessions and I had about what Minnesota -- the business economic value of immigrants in our community. I will just put that on the record later.
So, thank you. Thank you.
SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Senator Sessions, thanks to Senator Grassley and Senator McConnell, I now find myself as a member not only of this committee, but also the Intelligence Committee, for which I'm grateful.
One reason why I thought it was so important for another member of the Senate Judiciary Committee to get on the Intelligence Committee is because, while the Intelligence Committee conducts a lot of the oversight, it's the Judiciary Committee that confers the authorities on our intelligence officials and law enforcement officials to do what they do.
My hope is that, during this process where we're coming off a very contentious election, that our colleagues across the aisle will join us in making sure that the new president has his national security Cabinet members at least confirmed on an expedited basis.
And, of course, I would include the office of attorney general as one of those. As you know, the attorney general and the department's National Security Division work with members of the intelligence community and help oversee the collection of foreign intelligence information.
I know, earlier, Senator Leahy and perhaps Senator Lee asked you a little bit about the USA Freedom Act and the National Security Agency. But I want to highlight something you're well aware of, and that's the sunsetting of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
According to the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, which Congress appropriately appointed to oversee the activities of the intelligence community, Section 702, which will expire at the end of this year, has been responsible for disrupting more than 100 known terrorist plots, including the New York subway bomb plot in 2009 and other plots outside the United States.
As I said, if we don't act by the end of the year, that authority will expire. I think we are fortunate on the Judiciary Committee to also have, in addition to our other colleagues, Senator Feinstein, who has until recently served as the ranking member on the Senate Intelligence Committee, and now, of course, she's ranking here.
And I hope she, along with Chairman Grassley, will make sure that all of the committee members are thoroughly briefed and comfortable with the reauthorization of Section 702 and to make it one of our highest priorities this year.
In addition to Section 702, as you know, there are other legal and policy challenges that you're going to face as the next attorney general. Our national security investigators and law enforcement officers are facing incredible challenges, many of them technical challenges, like growing encryption of communications, whether it's hardware or in the -- or software. We saw that being relevant to what happened in San Bernardino, where
the FBI had to pay third parties a substantial amount of money to get at the communications contained in the telephones of the actors in the San Bernardino attacks, or in Garland, in my home state of Texas, where the last time the FBI director came before this committee said there were still a multitude of communications on the devices of the two shooters in Garland that they still had not been able to get access to.
So, the FBI director said this is a part of the tradecraft now of terrorists, and he referred to it as going dark. And, thankfully, Chairman Grassley held a hearing on that just this last year.
We know there are other statutes, including the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, things like the electronic communications -- the so-called ECTR fix, which would allow the use of national security letters to get I.P. addresses, not content, without a warrant, but I.P. addresses, or metadata, which is important to these national security investigations.
I think I know the answer to this, but, as attorney general, I just want -- would like your verbal commitment here to continue to do what you have always done, and that's put the safety and security of the American people first, and you will continue to work with us in a cooperative fashion to make sure that all the needs of all the stakeholders are being met, including the brave men and women who defend us each and every day in the intelligence and law enforcement community. Will you do that?
[16:45:20] SESSIONS: I will, Senator Cornyn, and thank you for your hard work and leadership on these important issues.
CORNYN: Let me ask you about the Freedom of Information Act. I don't know whether Senator Grassley had a chance to ask you about this or not. As you may know, Senator Grassley and I -- excuse me, Leahy and I, are kind of the odd couple on Freedom of Information Act reforms. As a conservative, I've always felt that the best antidote to abuse or waste is sunlight, where possible. And you don't have to pass another law or another regulation where people change their behavior because they know people are watching. And Senator Leahy and I have worked closely together to see a number of reforms passed and signed into law, many of which I know, you have supported or, and consulted with us on.
It's not a blank slate. It's -- sometimes you have to be careful about disclosing information that ought not to be public information or as law enforcement sensitive or classified or the like. But I just would hope that you would continue to work with us, and I'm confident you will, but I just like to get your verbal commitment to continue to work with us to make sure that the public's right to know is protected. I'm not suggesting that the public has a right to know everything because, frankly, as I said, classified law enforcement sensitive information needs to be protected for important policy reasons. But will you continue to work with us to make sure that we protect the public's right to know to the extent feasible?
SESSIONS: I will, Senator Cornyn., and I value your judgment and insight on this important issue. And I appreciate your work.
CORNYN: Thank you. Thanks, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Before I move on to my questions, I'd like to respond very briefly to what Senator Cruz said earlier. It is important, in my view, that the members of this committee get clarity with regard to the nominees' record. That's our job, and it's important. Now, let's be clear, Senator Sessions said in his questionnaire that he, quote, "personally handled four civil rights cases." Some of the lawyers who worked on those cases disputed that characterization and Senator Sessions himself, after his questionnaire was in, felt a need to file a supplement, in which he clarified that he merely provided, quote, "assistance and guidance to civil rights division attorneys on these four cases."
Now, if that's a distinction without a difference, I'm not sure why Senator Sessions felt the need to clarify. But I want to move on. Senator Sessions, in late November, President-elect Trump tweeted, quote, "In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote, if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally." Now, let's be clear, President-elect Trump lost the popular vote by more than 2.8 million votes. So, what he's saying here is that more than 2.8 fraudulent votes were cast. Do you agree with President Trump that millions of fraudulent votes were cast in the presidential election?
SESSIONS: Senator Franken, I don't know what the president-elect meant or was thinking when he made that comment or what facts he may have had to justify his statement. I would just say that every election needs to be managed closely and we need to ensure that there is integrity in it. And I do believe we regularly have fraudulent activities occur during election cycles.
FRANKEN: Well, Department of Justice is tasked with protecting voting rights and prosecuting fraud. So, if millions upon millions of fraudulent votes were cast, I would imagine that the next attorney general would be quite concerned about that. Did the President-elect tell you anything about what caused him to come to this conclusion?
[16:50:01] SESSIONS: I have not talked to him about that in any depth, or particularly, since the election.
FRANKEN: So, he didn't share any evidence of voter fraud with you? Because I would imagine as the man he wants -- that he wants to make responsible for combatting fraud at the ballot box, that he would want to make sure that you had all the evidence necessary to take action and to protect the vote, so, he didn't do that evidently.
Before I move on, I should note, for the record, that state election and law enforcement officials surveyed in mid-December, found virtually no credible reports of fraud among the nearly 138 million votes that were cast, and no states reported indications of any widespread fraud. But what's truly troubling about this, I believe, are these bogus claims of voter fraud. Is -- what they're -- they're used -- they're routinely used to justify voter suppression. And thanks to the Supreme Court's disastrously -- decided Shelby County decision, which gutted the Voting Rights Act, it is easier than ever before for states to take it -- make it harder for people to vote.
Now, Senator Sessions, you have a complicated history with the Voting Rights Act 10 years ago, when voting rights was a bipartisan issue, you voted to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act. Everyone did, passed 98 to nothing. But you have also called the Voting Rights Act, quote, "an intrusive piece of legislation." You have complained that the act's preclearance requirement unfairly targeted certain states. And you said that there is, quote, "little present-day evidence that state and local officials restrict access to the franchise". You said that the Voting Rights Act has, quote, "eliminated that discrimination".
Well, Senator, after the Shelby County decision, which you celebrated, states began testing the limits of what they could do, and in many cases, citing the risk of so-called "voter fraud" as a justification for their actions. Now, that's what happened in North Carolina, for example, just a few months after Shelby County, a state enacted one of the nation's strictest voter I.D. laws and enacted other restrictions. Without any evidence, the state described these changes necessary to prevent fraud. Well, the courts disagreed. North Carolina's restrictions were challenged and in July, the fourth circuit, found the primary purpose of the restrictions, wasn't to fight fraud, but to make it harder for black people to vote. Here is what the court said, and I quote, "The new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision. They constitute inept remedies for the problems assertedly justifying them and, in fact, imposed cures for problems that did not exist."
Senator, do you still believe that there is little present day evidence of states restricting access to the franchise? And if you do, what do you think the Fourth Circuit got wrong, when it found that North Carolina targeted black voters with almost surgical precision? Do you accept that North Carolina was targeting African-American voters, but not believe that it was engaging in discriminatory conduct?
SESSIONS: Well, you cannot create laws designed to inhibit the right of any class of citizens to vote. And so, if the Fourth Circuit found that and there is a factual basis to support it, then any law that's passed would be subject to being either eliminated or altered. So, I support your concern that laws of this kind cannot be used for that purpose. I do believe not long ago, the Supreme Court did uphold Voter I.D. Laws, but there are ways to do it, and ways, probably, you cannot do it. So, I am not familiar with the details of the North Carolina law, but you are correct, any finding that's sustainable, that there's a racial animus in the passing of a law that would restrict voting, that law is -- could be unsustainable.
FRANKEN: Now, North Carolina is one of the states that would have been covered by preclearance, was it not?
SESSIONS: North Carolina states would be. Of course --
FRANKEN: It would have been. So -- [16:54:57] SESSIONS: I would just suggest that section two, allows
all the remedies, and that's what I suppose they filed the action under in this case. It's just not a preclearance question, and that preclearance policy is intrusive, and as the Supreme Court has said, and I didn't mean that in any pejorative way. I was asked, "Do you believe it's intrusive, is that correct?" I said, it is intrusive, but the voting -- it said this 1986, but the voting rights act was absolutely essential to avert the problem --
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN BREAKING NEWS.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to break away from the confirmation hearings for some breaking news on the Charleston Church massacre trial. The jury, pardon me, has returned to the courtroom and delivered a sentence for the murderer Dylann Roof, they have sentenced him to death. Roof represented himself during the penalty phase after being convicted of murdering nine innocent people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, after a bible study in June 2015. During closing arguments, Roof, an avowed white supremacist, told the jury he still feels he, quote, "had to do it". Dylann Roof has been sentenced to death. Now, let's go back to the confirmation hearings.
FRANKEN: Carolina where African Americans' votes were suppressed. That's why you need preclearance. And as soon as Shelby came down, you saw Texas, you saw North Carolina go, oh, good. Now, we can suppress votes. That is the reason you have preclearance, and that is the reason that you can't rely on the district court or the circuit courts to rule.
SESSIONS: Mr. Chairman, I voted a few years ago for the Voting Rights Act extension for 25 years. It included preclearance in it. We all knew at that time that the Supreme Court would probably take up a case before long, that would have wrestled with the question of whether there's a sufficient basis for the extraordinary remedy of requiring only a few states in the country to have every, even ministerial act, like moving a voting precinct, to seek the permission of the Department of Justice first. The Supreme Court found that that no longer could be justified. The Supreme Court decided that we should not have -- did not have to have preclearance. But section two of the Voting Rights Act, allows these kind of challenges that Senator Franken is talking about. That's what was brought in North Carolina.
That's what's being litigated today. And the court there did, in fact, find that the voter I.D. law was improper as I understand it. So, I believe we proceeded in a lawful fashion, and I did feel in one sense that it was a good feeling that the Supreme Court had concluded, that been substantial improvement in our area of the country, the south of the country, in voting rights, sufficient that section five could no longer be justified. But I voted for it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for your indulgence. As Justice Ginsburg said, when an umbrella means you don't get wet when it's raining and you don't take the umbrella away.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the record, a letter that I just today received, in support of Senator Sessions' nomination from the National Shooting Sports Foundation. Senator Sess, without objection, I should say.
SEN. BENJAMIN SASSE (R), NEBRASKA: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Senator Sessions, I'd like to talk a little bit about the Sara Root Case. I know that you and I have discussed it briefly last summer. Sara Root was a woman who was killed a year ago this month in Omaha. She had just graduated from college and she was killed by a drunken street racer. Omaha authorities believe that this guy had been engaged in similar activity, many times in the past. He was an illegal immigrant. He ran into her car, killed her right after her graduation. He was detained by Omaha police.
They ultimately notified the Department of Homeland Security, this guy is a flight risk. He was able to post a fairly insignificant bond and he disappeared. The Department of Homeland Security did nothing to detain the guy, despite the fact that the Douglas County sheriff and the Omaha Police Department asked that he be detained. The Obama administration determined that it wasn't an enforcement priority. I don't want to hold you the specifics on this case here, but I want to get your pledge in this context. I want to hear you talk generally about the coordination between state and local law enforcement on the illegal immigration activities.