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June 24, 2017

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Trump attorney general pick grilled by Senate

WASHINGTON -- Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions fervently rejected "damnably false" accusations of past racist comments Tuesday as he challenged Democratic concerns about the civil rights commitment he would bring as Donald Trump's attorney general. He vowed at his confirmation hearing to stay independent from the White House and stand up to Trump when necessary.

Sessions laid out a sharply conservative vision for the Justice Department he would oversee, pledging to crack down on illegal immigration, gun violence and the "scourge of radical Islamic terrorism" and expressing support for the continued use of the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba.

But he also distanced himself from some of Trump's public pronouncements.

He said waterboarding, a now-banned harsh interrogation technique that Trump has at times expressed support for, was "absolutely improper and illegal."

Though he said he would prosecute immigrants who repeatedly enter the country illegally and criticized as constitutionally "questionable" an executive action by President Barack Obama that shielded certain immigrants from deportation, he said he did "not support the idea that Muslims, as a religious group, should be denied admission to the United States."

Trump earlier in his campaign called for a temporary total ban on Muslims entering his country but has more recently proposed "extreme vetting."

Sessions asserted that he could confront Trump if needed, saying an attorney general must be prepared to resign if asked to do something "unlawful or unconstitutional."

Nothing new came out of the hearing that seemed likely to threaten Sessions' confirmation by the Republican Senate.

Yet as he outlined his priorities, his past — including a 1986 judicial nomination that failed amid allegations that he'd made racially charged comments —hovered over the proceedings.

As Capitol Police took the men wearing white hoods and sheets out of the Senate hearing room, they yelled, "you can't arrest me, I am white!" and "white people own this government!" They held up hand signs saying, "Go Jeffie Boy!" and "KKK."

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