Today we’ll see the beginning (but likely not the end) of the confirmation hearings for Trump’s pick for Attorney General, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions. This pick is huge and will likely not only be one of the most important choices Trump makes – particularly after eight years of systemic abuse by Holder and Lynch – but one of the most contentious ones.
The Hill has a pretty good list of five things to watch for during the hearing which is worth a read before you watch the inquisition. They include lines of questioning over Trump’s immigration and deportation plans, voting rights, police tactics and the overall “tone” that the senators take while questioning him. But the biggest item on the list is a rehashing of his 1986 confirmation hearing (which ultimately fell through) and charges of racism which were made at the time.
When I turned on the TV today, the Morning Joe crew had Eddie Glaude (chair of the Center for African-American Studies and the William S. Tod Professor of Religion and African-American Studies at Princeton) as one of the first guests. He gave us a good hint as to what we can expect to come from these hearings on the racism front. Glaude was talking about Sessions, describing himself as a representative of “we on the left” and predicting that Democrats would fight tooth and nail to stop the Sessions appointment. He went so far as to say that he was actually disappointed that Holder didn’t inject the race card even further into national policy on law enforcement. You can bet that Glaude and his allies have been in the ears of the Democrats and we’ll see plenty of that during the hearing.
In terms of a defense against these charges, you should take a look at this article at the Weekly Standard from Mark Hemingway. He provides a good, first person history of the Michael Donald lynching investigation in the early 80s and Sessions’ key role in getting the death penalty for KKK members involved in the atrocity.
Between 1981 and 1983 the state developed two very substantial suspects [in the Michael Donald lynching] but we didn’t quite have the juice that would rise to the level of proving these two characters guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Enter Jeff Sessions. I went to Jeff and basically requested two things. Number one was his use of a federal grand jury to bring these Klansmen before a federal forum on a repeated basis. And two was his influence in getting the FBI to provide investigative assistance.
The long and the short of it is the fact that they likely couldn’t have even gotten a conviction of the Klansmen in that case, to say nothing of a death sentence, if it weren’t for Sessions. To put it mildly, reports of his “racist past” seem to be greatly exaggerated.
One other thing to keep an eye on today will be this report from the Washington Post. It seems that they’ve dug up something to do with oil industry holdings which Sessions failed to disclose on his ethics forms.
Attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions did not disclose his ownership of oil interests on land in Alabama as required by federal ethics rules, according to an examination of state records and independent ethics lawyers who reviewed the documents.
The Alabama records show that Sessions owns subsurface rights to oil and other minerals on more than 600 acres in his home state, some of which are adjacent to a federal wildlife preserve.
The holdings are small, producing revenue in the range of $4,700 annually. But the interests were not disclosed on forms sent by Sessions to the Office of Government Ethics, which reviews the assets of Cabinet nominees for potential conflicts of interest.
A patch of land which produces less than $5K per year in product doesn’t exactly make Sessions an oil baron, but he still needed to disclose the information. One could easily see how this was likely nothing more than a minor oversight in the dizzying rush to prepare for confirmation, and Sessions will need to make that clear when it comes up. But you can expect the Democrats to try to paint it as something more sinister.
Will Sessions make it through? He’s supposed to be well liked in the upper chamber, even among most of the Democrats. They’ll talk tough and put on a good show, but the reality is that he only needs to convince a handful of them at most to toss him a vote. Somehow I expect that this nomination will sail through with less drama than cable news hosts are anticipating.
What am I personally looking for in an Attorney General? I want to know that the era of “prosecutorial discretion” as an excuse not to go after highly placed government officials is at an end. We’ve seen far too many cases under both Holder and Lynch where those who are well placed with the politically powerful have investigations into their activities mysteriously dropped into the circular file. (Let’s not forget Huma Abedin’s embezzlement charges.) I would like to see a commitment from Sessions to going after such cases even more vigorously than the more mundane crimes of the unwashed masses. And I don’t care whether they are Democrats or Republicans who are close to Trump and his cabinet. It’s easy to send in the cavalry to go after the wackjob who sets fire to the local Walmart, but it takes more spine to police those in power. If you can’t hold our own elected officials accountable under the law there is no reason for the voters to trust you.