Cory Booker Testifies Against Jeff Sessions At AG Hearing

Alex Brandon

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), in a move unprecedented for a senator, testified against the confirmation of his colleague, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) for Attorney General.

"Sen. Sessions has not demonstrated a commitment to a central requirement of the job, to aggressively pursue the congressional mandate of civil rights, equal rights and justice for all of our citizens," Booker said Wednesday, the second day of hearings. "In fact, numerous times he has demonstrated a hostility towards these convictions and has worked to frustrate attempts to advance the common good.”

He was joined on the witness panel by Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) and Congressional Black Caucus Chair Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA). Other members of the caucus were present in the audience.

Sessions avoided any major mishaps in the first day of hearings, where he fielded questions until well into the evening Tuesday. He spent ample time answering for controversial remarks he's made in the past, as well as for the proposals President-elect Donald Trump put forward on the campaign trail.

A full list of witnesses and a livestream is below. This post will be updated throughout the day with the latest from the hearing.

Update 2:35 p.m.: Throughout the two days of hearings, "media backgrounder" packets were distributed among the press tables addressing some of the charges made against Sessions. The packets were prepared by lawyers including three ex-Sessions staffers for the Trump transition team, according to Mother Jones.

One packet looked at the Perry County voter fraud case, where, as a U.S. attorney, Sessions was involved in the prosecution of a group of black civil rights activists in Alabama for allegedly tampering with absentee ballots. (A jury acquitted the three activists in a matter of a few hours.)

One of the articles quoted was a Conservative Review story called "How Black Democrats Stole Votes in Alabama and Jeff Sessions Tried To Stop It." The story takes issue with the way many aspects of the case, which was a major factor in dooming Sessions' nomination for a judgeship in the mid-1980s, have been used again against Sessions. It was written by Hans Von Spakovsky, a former DOJ official under the George W. Bush administration, who, according to career attorneys there, led the politicization of the voting rights section.


Update 2:27 p.m.: Congressional Black Caucus Chair Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA) condemned the decision to have Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) and Sen. Corey Booker (D-NJ) testify at the final panel of the hearings, rather than the first panel of witnesses in the morning. (Lawmakers who testify at hearings typically are allowed to testify first.)

“To have a senator, a House member and a living civil rights legend testify at the end of all of this is the equivalent of being made to go to the back of the bus,” Richmond said. “It's a petty strategy and the record should reflect my consternation at the unprecedented process that brought us here.”

Speaking to reporters after the hearing, Lewis said, “We shouldn’t have been last.”

“But it’s ok. We made our statement,” he added.

Booker, meanwhile, told reporters after the hearing that he was not angry with Judiciary Chair Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) for the decision and that he felt “gratitude” towards him, noting their work together on criminal justice reform.


Update 2:16 p.m.: Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) began his testimony describing the discrimination he faced growing up in rural Alabama.

"We can pretend that the law is blind. We can pretend that it is even-handed but if we are honest ourselves we know we are called upon daily by the people we represent to help them deal with unfairness and how the law is written and enforced," Lewis said. "Those who are committed to equal justice, in our society, wonder whether Senator Sessions' calls for law and order will mean today what it meant in Alabama when I was coming up back then."

Update at 1:30 p.m.: In an unprecedented move for a senator, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) delivered testimony against Sessions' confirmation at Wednesday's hearing.

"Sen. Sessions has not demonstrated a commitment to a central requirement of the job, to aggressively pursue the congressional mandate of civil rights, equal rights and justice for all of our citizens," Booker said. "In fact, numerous times he has demonstrated a hostility towards these convictions and has worked to frustrate attempts to advance the common good.”

Update at 12:01 p.m.: The hearing got testy during Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) round of questioning, during which he accused ACLU legal director David Cole of presenting a “one-sided” and “biased” view of Sessions in his testimony. Cole didn’t take the accusations lying down, and pushed back on Cruz’s own interpretation of the facts surrounding a legal case alleging prosecutorial misconduct in Sessions’ Alabama state attorney’s office. “Senator you’re now presenting misleading" information, Cole shot back at Cruz.

Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) -- who Cruz bashed Tuesday for “impugn[ing] the integrity of a fellow senator” -- jumped into the fray when his turn for questioning came up next. He noted that Cruz himself misrepresented evidence Tuesday when he said that the lawyer who testified against Sessions in his 1986 judgeship hearings had recanted his testimony. (The attorney only recanted one small part of his testimony.)

“If the senator is going after a witness for not being balanced, I would suggest that the senator look at his own methods of making arguments,” Franken said.

Update 11:15 a.m.: Chuck Canterbury, the president of the police union the Fraternal Order Of Police, indicated that he expected Sessions, as attorney general, to take a different posture than President Obama's Justice Department, when it comes to their response to accusations of police misconduct.

"First and foremost, we believe that Senator Sessions, as attorney general, will not speak out on incidents that arise before a thorough and full investigation, and we believe the anti-police rhetoric comes from people that make comments without knowledge of the situation and prior to the facts being released to the media, and so we believe that there will be a much more positive tone about reconciliation," Canterbury said.

Update 10:50 a.m.: Chuck Canterbury, the president of the police union the Fraternal Order Of Police, indicated that he expected Sessions, as attorney general, to take a different posture than President Obama's Justice Department, when it comes to their response to accusations of police misconduct.

"First and foremost, we believe that Senator Sessions, as attorney general, will not speak out on incidents that arise before a thorough and full investigation, and we believe the anti-police rhetoric comes from people that make comments without knowledge of the situation and prior to the facts being released to the media, and so we believe that there will be a much more positive tone about reconciliation," Canterbury said. Update 10:38 a.m.: Testifying in favor of Sessions' confirmation is Chuck Canterbury, the president of the police union the Fraternal Order Of Police. The union has taken a hardline stance against many criminal justice reform efforts and has been hostile towards the Black Lives Matter movement -- even lobbying for stores to pull shirts that say "Black Lives Matter."

"I can say without reservation that I've never testified with more optimism and enthusiasm than I do today for Sen. Jeff Sessions. We wholeheartedly support his position and nomination as Attorney General of the United States," Canterbury said in his opening remarks Wednesday.

Update 10:36 a.m: Among the witnesses at Wednesday's hearings is Amita Swadhin, a survivor of sexual assault and an advocate for child abuse victims. She zeroed in on Trump's Access Hollywood hot mic tape and Sessions' reluctance at the time to call the behavior described sexual assault.

"Millions of sexual assault survivors were triggered in the wake of these events. I was one of those survivors," Swadhin said in her opening remarks. Update 9:54 a.m: Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) in his opening remarks jumped on a comment made by Sessions Tuesday to express concerns about a potential purge of Justice Department career staff. During Tuesday's hearing, Sessions answered, "Well, I’m not sure,” when asked by Whitehouse whether a secular attorney would have the same understanding of the truth as a religious attorney.

"There's legitimate concern based on the hectoring in the right wing groups for a general housecleaning of career staff and for a particular targeting of named career staff," Whitehouse said Wednesday, pointing to comments made by people at the Heritage Foundation.

"And I think it's a matter of concern when an attorney general thinks that a secular attorney may have a lesser or different appreciation of truth than a religious attorney," Whitehouse said.

PANEL II

The Honorable Michael Mukasey, Former Attorney General

Mr. Oscar Vazquez, Former DREAMER and U.S. Veteran

Mr. Peter Kirsanow, Commissioner of United States Commission On Civil Rights

Ms. Amita Swadhin, Founder of Mirror Memoirs

Ms. Jayann Sepich, Co-Founder of DNA Saves

Mr. Cornell Brooks, President And CEO of the NAACP

Mr. Chuck Canterbury, National President of the Fraternal Order Of Police

Mr. David Cole, Legal Director of the ACLU

The Honorable Larry Thompson, Former Deputy Attorney General

Panel III

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ)

Mr. Willie Huntley, Former Assistant United States Attorney

Rep. John Lewis (D-GA)

Mr. Jesse Seroyer, Former United States Marshal

Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA), Congressional Black Caucus Chair

Mr. William Smith, Former Chief Counsel Administrative Oversight And The Courts Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tierney Sneed is a reporter for Talking Points Memo. She previously worked for U.S. News and World Report. She grew up in Florida and attended Georgetown University.
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