What Are You Hiding, Jeff Sessions?

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NYT

On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to begin confirmation hearings for Jeff Sessions, President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for attorney general.

It will be the first of a slew of hearings Senate Republicans are trying to ram through this week, many for ultra-wealthy nominees whose tangled financial interests are nowhere near being fully vetted by ethics officials.

If anyone requires a thorough vetting, it’s Mr. Sessions, the Republican senator from Alabama who trails behind him a toxic cloud of hostility to racial equality, voting rights, women’s rights, criminal justice reform and other issues at the heart of the Justice Department’s mandate. Yet in their eagerness to act on his nomination, Senate Republicans seem unconcerned that Mr. Sessions, who has made appropriate financial disclosures, has failed to turn over dozens — possibly hundreds — of documents that the committee specifically requests in its standard questionnaire, including transcripts of speeches, interviews, opinion pieces and other public remarks.

Mr. Sessions, who has suggested that judicial nominees may be committing crimes when they withhold relevant information from the Senate, now gives laughable explanations for the truck-size holes in his own résumé. He has said that there is no record of the vast majority of interviews he has given over the years, but a quick Google search disproves that.

He failed to mention, for example, a visit to Fox & Friends in October, days after the release of tapes revealing Mr. Trump bragging about sexual assault. During that interview, Mr. Sessions called the outraged reaction to the tapes “overblown” and said, “Everybody knows that Trump likes women.” He also appears to have forgotten about many interviews he gave to Breitbart News, the far-right nationalist website. Breitbart’s executive chairman, Stephen Bannon, left that organization to run Mr. Trump’s campaign, and is now the president-elect’s top strategist.

According to a report compiled by several outside advocacy groups, Mr. Sessions provided the committee with clips of only 11 print interviews, none of which appeared before 2003. Most concerning is the glaring absence of material from his earlier years in public office, in the 1980s and 1990s, when he served as Alabama’s top federal prosecutor and then as the state’s attorney general. The period includes the biggest political embarrassment of his career: the Senate’s rejection, in 1986, of his nomination to a federal judgeship by President Ronald Reagan. It was only the second time in half a century that the judiciary committee turned down a judicial nominee. Why such an extraordinary move? Because testimony from multiple former colleagues of Mr. Sessions suggested he was racist. In one case, Mr. Sessions referred to the American Civil Liberties Union and the N.A.A.C.P. as “un-American” for “trying to force civil rights down the throats of people.” (Mr. Sessions made no mention of the failed nomination in his response to the judiciary committee questionnaire, which specifically asks for that information.)

It’s bad enough that Mr. Sessions is trying to hide from the American people the things he said and did from that era. Even worse, he’s now recasting himself as a civil-rights hero who “personally” litigated several major voting rights and desegregation cases — a myth that Justice Department lawyers who dealt with him at the time have been quick to debunk, saying he “had no substantive involvement in any of them.”

Despite Mr. Sessions’s insultingly incomplete responses to the committee, the burden remains on him to show he is fit to serve in such an influential post. His failure to do so may not deter Republicans, who appear to care only about getting their friend and colleague confirmed quickly. In contrast, when the Democrats controlled the Senate in 2009, they agreed to delay confirmation hearings for Mr. Obama’s nominee for attorney general, Eric Holder Jr.

This sets up the first big test of Democrats’ willingness to push back against Mr. Trump’s radical cabinet picks. Dianne Feinstein, the committee’s ranking Democrat, needs to take the lead in ensuring that Americans know as much as possible about the man who would be the nation’s top law-enforcement official. The attorney general is too important an office, and Mr. Sessions’s views are too extreme — as Republicans themselves saw 30 years ago — to allow his nomination to sail through without a fight.

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