President-elect Trump has tapped three of his most prominent supporters for top spots in his administration, his transition team announced today.
Trump will nominate Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions for the post of attorney general, and Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo for director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Trump also named Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn as his national security adviser, a position that does not require Senate confirmation.
As with Trump’s selection of Steve Bannon, the choices of Sessions and Flynn have already led to contentious, political responses from media and Democrats regarding alleged wrongdoing.
Flynn is being challenged about his alleged ties to the Kremlin, and Sessions is receiving the Bannon treatment for allegedly racist comments he is accused of making 30 years ago.
Those attacks on Sessions led him to withdraw from consideration. He went on to become state attorney general, and was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1996.
Via CBS News:
“Mr. Sessions is a throwback to a shameful era, which I know both black and white Americans thought was in our past,” the late Massachusetts Democrat, Sen. Edward Kennedy, said during the 1986 confirmation hearing. “It is inconceivable to me that a person of this attitude is qualified to be a U.S. attorney, let alone a U.S. federal judge.”
During the hearing, a former assistant U.S. attorney, Thomas Figures, who is black, said Sessions referred to him as “boy,” and told him to be careful what he said to “white folks.” Sessions said he never called Figures “boy,” but Kennedy produced a letter from an organization of black lawyers that said Figures made the allegation about Sessions to the organization’s investigators at least twice.
Sessions told the committee that he told Figures to be careful what he said to “folks.”
“I believe that the statements and actions of Mr. Sessions regarding race, and regarding civil rights, impact tremendously on whether he is decent,” Figures told the committee. Figures died in 2015.
Sessions was also criticized for joking in the presence of an attorney with the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division that the Ku Klux Klan was “OK” until he learned they smoked marijuana. During his confirmation hearing, he said his comment about the Klan “was a silly comment, I guess you might say, that I made.”
Sessions told the committee he made the joke while his office was investigating the 1981 murder of Michael Donald, a black man who was kidnapped, beaten and killed by two Klansmen who slit his throat and then hanged his body in a tree in Mobile, Alabama. The two men were later arrested and convicted.
Sessions said he never meant the joke to suggest he supported the Klan. He said the joke was intended to convey that he thought it was “bizarre” that Klansmen had smoked marijuana after one of their meetings.
“All of us understood that the Klan is a force for hatred and bigotry and it just could not have meant anything else than that under those circumstances,” Sessions said, noting that he had been involved in the decision to try one of the killers in state court so he could face the death penalty.
Sessions’ spokesman said the senator was unavailable to be interviewed for this story.
Barry Kowalski, a former Justice Department attorney who was in Mobile, working with Sessions on the Donald case, said he was there for the so-called joke about the Klan, and he did not interpret it as a racist comment. He said it was a joke. “That was totally hospital room humor,” Kowalski told the AP Thursday.
“I can only speak from what I saw,” Kowalski said. “He couldn’t have been more supportive of making sure we got convicted the murderers of the last black man who was lynched by the Klan.”
A confirmation hearing for Sessions could occur as early as January, according to CBS. With the GOP’s 52-48 advantage, his confirmation is almost assured, unless he loses a few votes from members of his own party. However, one of the few occasional defectors — South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham — is already telling reporters he would support a Sessions nomination:
I’d vote for him. I like Jeff. He was the early, only supporter for Donald Trump in the Senate. And I believe Jeff Sessions has earned the right to serve President Trump in the highest levels, and I think he’s a good, competent, capable man.
Conservative senators Mike Lee (R-UT) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) would also support Sessions. Said Lee’s spokesman Conn Carroll:
Sen. Lee has worked closely with Sessions in the Senate and has the utmost respect for his abilities.
Ted Cruz, who was reportedly under consideration for AG himself, said the following in a press release:
Sen. Jeff Sessions’ nomination as attorney general is great news for all of us who revere the Constitution and the rule of law. I have been honored to work with Sen. Sessions on many of our nation’s most important issues over the last four years. Sen. Sessions has had an extraordinary career in government and law enforcement. He has been an exemplary senator for the state of Alabama, and I am confident that he will be an exceptional United States attorney general.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the newly elected ranking member on the Judiciary Committee, also issued a statement Friday:
Senator Sessions has served on the Senate Judiciary Committee for many years so he’s well aware of the thorough vetting he’s about to receive. While many of us have worked with Senator Sessions closely and know him to be a staunch advocate for his beliefs, the process will remain the same: a fair and complete review of the nominee.
When reporters asked yesterday whether he thought he would be confirmed by the Senate, Sessions simply stated:
People have to make that decision. The actual senators will cast those votes on any confirmation.