Transition team spokesman Jason Miller and Sean Spicer, communications director for the Republican National Committee, dismissed questions about retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), who have histories of making, respectively, anti-Muslim and racist comments.
Miller praised Sessions as "someone who's universally respected across party lines in the U.S. Senate."
He listed examples from Sessions' tenure as U.S. Attorney for the southern district of Alabama and his work at the Justice Department.
"When Senator Sessions was U.S. Attorney he filed a number of desegregation lawsuits in Alabama. He also voted in favor of the thirty-year extension of the Civil Rights Act," Miller said. "He also voted to confirm Attorney General Eric Holder, and even spearheaded the effort toward awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to Rosa Parks, so we feel very confident that Senator Sessions has the background and the support to receive confirmation, even going back to the points that you brought up about years ago."
He also cited a comment from the late Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) calling Sessions "egalitarian."
A Republican-controlled Senate rejected Sessions' nomination to a federal judgeship in 1986 after several U.S. attorneys testified that was hostile to civil rights cases, made racist comments and joked about the Ku Klux Klan being "OK." A black lawyer testified that Sessions called him "boy" and warned him to "be careful what you say to white folks."
Asked what message Flynn's nomination sends to Muslim Americans, Miller avoided the question entirely. Instead he praised the retired lieutenant general, who Miller said is "widely regarded as one of the most respected generals and intelligence officers of his generation."
Spicer added his own take later in the call, saying that "anyone's personal view isn't what matters."
"You are serving the President-elect of the United States and implementing his views," Spicer said. "Everybody who serves in a Trump administration will serve Donald Trump and Mike Pence, and they will implement that vision and their ideas and no one else's."