Trump’s pick for attorney general opposes ban on Muslims
WASHINGTON: Donald Trump’s candidate for attorney general Tuesday said he opposed banning Muslims from entering the United States and, taking a tougher stance than the president-elect, said waterboarding is torture and illegal.
Republican Senator Jeff Sessions, the nominee, responded to questions at a Senate confirmation hearing, the first in a series this week for nominees to serve in the Cabinet once Trump enters the White House on Jan. 20.
Protesters charging Sessions has a poor record on human rights interrupted the proceedings several times.
During the 2016 election campaign, Trump said waterboarding was an effective interrogation technique, and vowed to bring it back and “a hell of a lot worse.”
President George W. Bush’s administration came under fire when intelligence agencies used the method which simulates the sensation of drowning. More recently Trump has said retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, his nominee for secretary of defense, had persuasively argued against it.
Asked if waterboarding constituted torture, Sessions said Congress has since passed legislation making it “absolutely improper and illegal to use waterboarding or any other form of torture.” His stance that the law clearly bans waterboarding could pose a problem for Trump if he tries to reinstate the practice.
Sessions said he would not support banning anyone from the U.S. on the basis of religion, and said Trump’s intentions were to block people coming from countries harboring terrorists, not all Muslims.
During his campaign, Trump at one point proposed a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country.
Sessions also said he would recuse himself from investigating Hillary Clinton’s email practices and charitable foundation if confirmed as attorney general, and he would favor the appointment of a special prosecutor for any such investigation.
Sessions, 70, became the first sitting senator to endorse Trump for the presidency in early 2016, and has remained an adviser on issues such as immigration. He is being reviewed by the Senate Judiciary Committee, a panel on which he serves, and is widely expected to be confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate.
Sessions said he agreed with Trump in opposing Democratic President Barack Obama’s executive action that granted temporary protection to immigrant children brought to the country illegally by their parents and would not oppose overturning it.
Sessions also said he agreed with many of his fellow Republicans that the military prison for foreign terrorism suspects in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba remain open. The Obama administration has sought to close the prison, opened by former
President George W. Bush in 2002.
Sessions several times defended himself against charges of racism. He said allegations that he harbored sympathies toward the Ku Klux Klan, a violent white-supremacist organization, are false. “I abhor the Klan and what it represents and its hateful ideology,” Sessions said in his opening remarks.
Among the protesters who disrupted the hearing were two men wearing KKK costumes and a woman wearing a pink crown. As Capitol Police took the men wearing white hoods and sheets out of the Senate hearing room, they yelled, “You can’t arrest me, I am white!” and, “White people own this government!” They held up hand signs saying, “Go Jeffie Boy!”
Sessions was denied confirmation to a federal judgeship in 1986 after allegations emerged that he made racist remarks, including testimony that he called an African-American prosecutor “boy,” an allegation Sessions denied.
Sessions has opposed abortion and same-sex marriage as a senator, but said Tuesday that if confirmed as attorney general he would follow the Supreme Court rulings that legalized both abortion and same-sex marriage.
The attorney general is the country’s top prosecutor and legal adviser to the president. As head of the Justice Department, the attorney general also oversees the immigration court system that decides whether immigrants are deported or granted asylum or some other kind of protection. –