Leahy, On Senate Floor: Senator Sessions Lacks Independence To Be Attorney General

“There is simply nothing in Senator Sessions’ testimony before the Judiciary Committee that gives me confidence that he would be willing to stand up to the president.”

Sustained legal challenges to President Trump’s unconstitutional Muslim ban underscore the need for an independent attorney general to uphold the Constitution, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said Tuesday.

“There is a reason the Justice Department is not led by a Secretary of Justice: the Attorney General is the people’s attorney, not the president’s attorney.  The Trump administration has already shown us why this distinction matters,” Leahy said during a lengthy floor statement about the nomination of Senator Jeff Sessions to be Attorney General of the United States.  “Within its first two weeks, this administration found itself rebuked in numerous federal courts around the country.  Its extreme agenda casts a shadow over all of the President’s nominees.”

While President Trump has fired an Acting Attorney General and attacked a sitting judge for upholding the law, Senator Sessions has failed to illustrate how he would be an independent attorney general.  He has refused to directly answer Senator Leahy’s questions about his views on the Violence Against Women Act, his association with anti-Muslim extremist groups, Russia’s interference with the presidential election, ethics concerns with the new Trump administration, and other matters.  His “insultingly incomplete responses” to the Senate Judiciary Committee drew criticism from the New York Times, and the Washington Post editorial board called on Sessions to recuse himself from Justice Department investigations of Russia’s hacking. 

“There is simply nothing in Senator Sessions’ testimony before the Judiciary Committee that gives me confidence that he would be willing to stand up to the president.  He has instead demonstrated only blind allegiance,” Leahy said.  “This is a president who started citing alternative facts to deny his small crowd size at his inauguration, but who is now citing alternative facts to excuse murders by Putin’s regime.  That should alarm us all.”

Though he has served in the Senate for two decades, Sessions’ nomination divided the Judiciary Committee along party lines.  His nomination has raised significant concerns from civil rights organizations, the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence, and faith leaders

Senator Sessions was also one of just four senators in 2015 to oppose Leahy’s straightforward amendment in the Judiciary Committee affirming that “the United States must not bar individuals from entering into the United States based on their religion.”  In light of President Trump’s executive order banning refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries, which has been challenged in federal court, Leahy today (Tuesday) will introduce a similar Senate resolution on religious freedom.

I invite Senator Sessions, who is still taking an active role as a Senator, including voting on controversial cabinet nominees for President Trump, to cosponsor this resolution,” Leahy said.  “It would help to reassure Americans that he stands against religious discrimination and religious tests.”

Senator Leahy’s full remarks are available online.

Text of Senator Leahy’s religious freedom resolution is also available online.

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