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Live Coverage of Sen. Jeff Sessions' Confirmation Hearing. Aired 10-10:30a ET
Aired January 10, 2017 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[10:00:03] SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: Thank you, Senator Feinstein.
Before I turn to Senator Shelby and Collins for their opening statement, I note that the committee received a letter from former Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice indicating that she had hoped to join our colleagues and introducing Senator Sessions, she strongly supports his nomination, it's a powerful letter and I hope my colleagues will take time to read it and I would like to have it entered in the record at this point.
Now, to Senator Shelby and Senator Collins in that order. Proceed.
SEN. RICHARD SHELBY (R), ALABAMA: Chairman Grassley, Ranking Member Feinstein, thank you for allowing me to be a part of this historic hearing today.
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.
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Chairman, Senator Feinstein, members of this distinguished committee; 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.
COLLINS: 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.
COLLINS: 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. The members of this committee have an advantage that Senator Specter did not.
The vast majority of you have already served with Senator Sessions and you know him well. If this committee places its trust in him, I have every confidence that Jeff Sessions will execute the office of Attorney General honestly, faithfully, and fully in the pursuit of justice.
Thank you Mr. Chairman. Thank you Ranking Member Feinstein and members of this committee.
GRASSLEY: And I thank both of our colleagues for our powerful statement. I appreciate it very much. And you're free to go and we'll call the nominee at this point.
Senator Sessions, before you are seated, I'd like to administer the oath. Would you raise your hand please and answer this question? Do you swear that the testimony that you are about to give, before this committee, will be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help you God?
SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R), ALABAMA: I do.
GRASSLEY: Thank you, and please be seated. Senator Sessions, it's our normal process if you desire to introduce people that are with you, including your family -- I'm sure you're very proud of. You are free to do that and then go immediately to your opening statement. SESSIONS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I am (ph) being joined (ph) by (inaudible) and grandchildren. It's an honor for me to be here, and to have my family (ph) with me (ph). First, my wife Mary, my best friend for (inaudible) years, without her love and look (ph) forward (ph) none of this would have been possible for me and our family.
And we are so proud of our three children, each of which are here today. Mary Abigail Reinhardt, our oldest (inaudible).
Thank you. They're now stationed in the Pacific Coast. They have two children, Jane Ritchie and Jim Beau. And they wished me well this morning. My daughter, Ruth Walk -- maybe Ruth you would stand up -- and her husband, John Walk. John is an attorney with the Department of Homeland Security.
And they have four children as you see before you today, Grace -- Gracie and Hannah and Joanna and Phoebe. Phoebe and Joanna are twins. And we're so proud of them. My son, Sam, is a graduate of Auburn and Alabama Law School. Sorry, Sam, about the game the last night. Lindsey, congratulations, wherever he is.
Sam is an attorney in Birmingham and he is married to Angela Stratas. They have four children, Alexa, Sophia, Lewis and Nicholas. Ten grandchildren, the oldest is nine, and you can imagine the week we had at the beach this summer in Alabama.
Finally, I want to express how humbled I am to have received such overwhelming support and encouragement from our nation's law enforcement community, many are here today.
Mr. Chairman, with your permission, I would like to ask those present, please, to stand and be recognized, the law enforcement members that are here today.
Would you please stand? Every major law enforcement organization in America has endorsed my candidacy. I feel the weight of the confidence that they have placed in me. And gentlemen and ladies, I'll do my best to be worthy of that.
And if I may, Mr. Chairman, yesterday with Law Enforcement Officer Appreciation Day, sadly on that day, we lost two of our brave officers. Orlando Police Department Master Sergeant Debra Clayton, one of the first officers to respond to the Orlando night club shooting in June, was shot and killed while confronting a subject wanted for murder.
Sergeant Clayton, a 17 year veteran of the force was married with two children. While assisting in the search for that assailant, Orange County Deputy First Class Sheriff Norman Lewis was killed in a traffic action -- accident on his motorcycle. He was an 11 year veteran of the Sheriff's Office.
These honorable and dedicated -- have dedicated their lives to keeping their communities safe and we should remember their service and keep them in our families -- and their families in our prayers.
Chairman Grassley, Ranking Member Feinstein, distinguished members of the committee, I'm honored to appear before you today. I thank you for the opportunity to respond to your questions as you discharge your duty in the appointment process as prescribed by the Constitution.
I also want to thank you my dear friends...
PROTESTER: No Trump! No KKK! No fascist USA! No Trump! No KKK! No fascist USA! Citizens of the races (ph) illegitimate, just like the whole (inaudible) Senate from ruling (ph). People consented (ph) to the (inaudible) -- let me stand up.
January 14 they were (ph) standing in the street. refuse (ph).org! refuse (ph).org! Stop Trump (ph) camping (ph) from people (ph). refuse (ph).org! No Trump! No KKK! No fascist USA! No Trump! No KKK! No fascist USA!
SESSIONS: Mr. Chairman, if I might, dear friends, I want to thank Richard Shelby, my colleague, and Senator Susan Collins for their kind and generous introductions. It was very moving and touching for me. It's hard to believe, really, that the three of us have served together in this body for almost 20 years.
When I arrived in the Senate in 1997, I probably wouldn't have anticipated becoming so close with a colleague from Maine, two people from the northern most part of our country and the southern most part...
PROTESTER: No Trump! No KKK! No fascist USA!
[10:15:00] No way you can keep (ph) me (ph) from (ph) your hands up (ph). (inaudible) you're a pig. (inaudible) from getting in power.
SESSIONS: It took us awhile to perhaps understand our accents, but once we did, we became fast friends. Of course Richie Shelby and I never had an accent problem. He was a -- has been a steadfast friend and I think we've been a pretty good team representing the interests of Alabama and the United States.
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. Today, I'm afraid it's become more important than ever.
SESSIONS: Since the early 1980s, good policing and prosecutions over a period a years have been a strong force in reducing crime, making our communities safer. Drug use and murders are half what they were in 1980 when I became a United States attorney.
So I'm very concerned that the recent jump in violent crime and murder rates are not anomalies, but the beginning of a dangerous trend that could reverse those hard-won gains that have made America a safer and more prosperous place.
The latest FBI statistics show that all crime increased nearly four percent from 2014 to 2015. The largest increase since 1991, with murders increasing nearly 11 percent, the single largest increase since 1971. In 2016 there were 4,368 shooting victims in Chicago. In Baltimore, homicides reached the second highest per capita rate ever.
The country's also in the throes of a heroin epidemic, with overdose deaths more than tripling between 2010 and 2014 -- tripling. Nearly 50,000 people a year die from drug overdose. Meanwhile, illegal drugs flood across our southern border and into every city and town in the country bringing violence, addiction and misery.
We must not lose perspective when discussing these statistics. We must always remember that these crimes have been committed against real people, real victims. It's important that they are kept in the forefront of our minds in these conversations and to ensure that their rights are protected.
So these trends cannot continue. It is a fundamental civil right to be safe in your home and your community. If I am confirmed, we will systematically prosecute criminals who use guns in committing crimes. As United States attorney, my office was a national leader in gun prosecutions nearly every year. We were partner with state and local law enforcement to take down these major drug trafficking cartels and dismantle criminal gangs.
We will prosecute those who repeatedly violate our borders. It will be my priority to confront these crimes vigorously, effectively and immediately. Approximately 90 percent of all law enforcement officers are not federal, but they're state and local. They are the ones on the front lines. They are better educated, trained and equipped than ever before. They are the ones who we rely on to keep our neighborhoods and playgrounds and schools safe.
But in the last several years, law enforcement as a whole, has been unfairly maligned and blamed for the unacceptable actions of a few of their bad actors. They believe the political leadership in the country has abandoned them. They felt they have become targets. Morale has suffered, and last year, while under intense public criticism, the number of police officers killed in the line of duty increased by 10 percent over 2015. And firearm deaths of police officers are up 68 percent.
So this is a wakeup call colleagues, it cannot continue. If we're to be more effective in dealing with rising crime, we will have to rely and work with more effectively local law enforcement, asking them to lead the way. To do that they must know they're supported. And if I am so fortunate as to be confirmed as Attorney General, they can be assured they will have my support in their lawful duties.
As I discussed with many of you in our meeting prior to this hearing, the federal government has an important role to play in this area also. We must use the research and the expertise and the training that has been developed by the Department of Justice to help these agencies in developing the most effective and lawful law enforcement methods to reduce crime. We must reestablish and strengthen the partnership between federal and local officers to enhance a common and unified effort to reverse the rising crime trends.
I did this as United States attorney. I worked directly and continuously with local and state law enforcement officials. If confirmed, this will be one of my priority objectives. There are also many things the department can do to assist the state and local officers to strengthen relationships with their own communities, where policies like community based policing have absolutely been proven to work.
I am committed to this effort and to ensuring that the Department of Justice is a unifying force for improving relations between the police in this country and the communities they serve. This is particularly important in our minority communities. Make no mistake, positive relations and great communications between the people and their police are essential for any good police department.
SESSIONS: And when police fail in their duties, they must be held accountable. I have done these things as United States attorney. I have worked to advance these kinds of policies.
In recent years, law enforcement officers have been called upon to protect our country from the rising threat of terrorism that has reached our shores. If I'm confirmed, protecting the American people from the scourge of radical Islamic terrorism will continue to be a top priority. We will work diligently to respond to threats using all lawful means to keep our country safe.
Partnerships will also be vital to achieving much more effective enforcement against cyber threats, and the Department of Justice clearly has a lead role to play in that essential effort. We must honestly assess our vulnerabilities and have a clear plan for defense as well as offense when it comes to cyber security.
The Department of Justice must never falter in its obligation to protect the civil rights of every American, particularly those who are most vulnerable. A special priority for me in this regard will be the aggressive enforcement of laws to ensure access to the ballot for every eligible voter without hindrance or discrimination and to ensure the integrity of the electoral process which has been a great heritage of the Department of Justice.
Further, this government must improve its ability to protect the United States Treasury from fraud, waste and abuse. This is a federal responsibility. We cannot afford to lose a single dollar to corruption, and you can be sure if I'm confirmed, I will make it a high priority of the Department of Justice to root out and prosecute fraud in federal programs and to recover monies lost due to fraud and false claims, as well as contracting fraud and issues of that kind.
The Justice Department must remain ever faithful to the Constitution's promise that our government is one of laws and not of men. It will be my unyielding commitment to you, if confirmed, to see that the laws are enforced faithfully, effectively and impartially.
The attorney general must hold everyone, no matter how powerful, accountable. No one is above the law and no American will be beneath its protection. No powerful special interest will power this department.
I want to address personally the fabulous men and women that work in the Department of Justice. That includes -- that includes personnel in main Justice here in Washington, but also the much larger number that faithfully fulfill their responsibilities every day throughout the nation.
As the United States attorney, I work with them constantly. I know them and the culture of their agencies. The federal investigative agencies represent the finest collection of law enforcement officers in the world. I know their integrity and their professionalism and I pledge to them a unity of effort that is unmatched. Together, we can and will reach the highest standards and the highest results. It would be the greatest honor for me to lead these fine public servants.
To my colleagues, I appreciate the time each of you have taken to meet me one-on-one. As senators, we don't always have enough opportunity to sit down and discuss matters face-to-face. I had some great visits. I understand and respect the conviction that you bring to your duties. Even though we may not always be in agreement, you have always been understanding and respectful of my positions and I of yours.
In our meetings over the past weeks, you have had the opportunity to share with me and your -- relating to the department from unprosecuted crimes on tribal lands, a matter that is greater than I had understood, to the scourge of human trafficking and child exploitation, to concerns about cuts in grant programs, to the protection of American civil liberties and the surge of heroin overdose deaths, to just name a few things.
I learned a lot during those meetings, and particularly in my meeting with Senator Whitehouse who discussed cyber security, he has a great deal of knowledge, there. And I'm glad that Senator Whitehouse, you and Senator Graham have taken a lead on this important issue and I think we can work together and make some progress.
[10:30:00] Senator Graham, congratulations on your football victory last night.
GRAHAM: We'll talk (ph) about that later.