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10 Best Attacks From Democrats At Jeff Sessions’ Confirmation Hearings

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

Senator Jeff Sessions’ (R-AL) confirmation hearing by the Senate Judiciary Committee took place on January 11-12, approximately one week before Trump takes office. The attorney general nominee was grilled profusely by the opposition party. Here are 10 of their best takedowns:

1. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) opened the hearing by reminding the room that “as attorney general, [Sessions] will not be asked to advocate for his beliefs, but to advocate for the law … even if he disagrees with the president … most importantly, his job will be to enforce federal law equally—equally—for all Americans.”

The Judiciary ranking Democrat also questioned Sessions on his anti-abortion views, turning to Supreme Court cases such as Roe v. Wade, Planned Parenthood vs. Casey and Whole Woman’s Health vs. Hellerstedt.

2. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) confronted Sessions on issues such as criminal justice and immigration reform. Durbin urged Sessions to consider the 800,000 Dreamers who fear deportation under a Trump administration.

“You said ‘I believe in following the law, there is too much focus on people who are here illegally and not enough on the law,'” Durbin announced. “Senator Sessions, there’s not a spot of evidence in your public career to suggest that as attorney general you would use the authority of that office to resolve the challenges of our broken immigration system in a fair and humane manner. Tell me I’m wrong.”

3. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), who has worked on several pieces of legislation with Sessions, brought up the nominee’s record on voting rights, which Sessions has spent the majority of his career opposing.

“You previously called the Voting Rights Act ‘an intrusive piece of legislation’ and I wondered if you could explain that,” she said.

4. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) pressed Sessions on his endorsements, particularly those of Operation Rescue and conservative think tank president David Horowitz.

“You gave a speech praising a man named David Horowitz as a man… [you said you] admire,” Blumenthal said, before rattling off several of Horowitz’s most incendiary remarks.

“Horowitz has said among other things that ‘All the major Muslim organizations in America are connected to the Muslim Brotherhood’ and ’80 percent of the mosques are filled with hate against Jews’… ‘Too many blacks are in prison because too many blacks commit crimes.'”

Blumenthal then revealed that the statement regarding Sessions’ admiration for Horowitz was omitted from his response to the committee. He then asked if Sessions was “embarrassed” about the endorsement of a man he once praised as “brilliant.”

5. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) grilled Sessions on the infamous Access Hollywood tape in which Donald Trump made lewd remarks on women alluding to sexual assault.

“Is grabbing a woman by her genitals without consent, is that sexual assault?” Leahy asked Sessions, referring to Trump’s comment about “grabbing” women “by the pussy” “when you’re a star.”

“I just start kissing them, don’t even wait,” Trump had said on the tape.

6. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) wanted to know how Sessions would approach environmental legislation. Would the attorney general use “real facts and real science” or stick with Republicans’ standard denial of climate change?

“In making a decision about the facts of climate change, to whom will you turn?” Whitehouse asked.

7. Senato Al Franken (D-MN) discussed Trump’s questionable sources of information, including the president-elect’s long-held belief that “millions” voted illegally.

“Senator Sessions, does it concern you that our future commander-in-chief is so much more willing to accept what Julian Assange says, instead of the conclusions of our intelligence agencies, and why do you think President Trump finds Assange trustworthy?”

8. NAACP President Cornell William Brooks, who was arrested during a sit-in at Sessions’ Senate office in Mobile last week, spoke of the attorney general’s obligation to heal racial divisions, prosecute hate crimes and end racially motivated voter suppression.

“The NAACP firmly believes that Senator Sessions is unfit to serve as attorney general,” Brooks reiterated.

9. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) also pointed to Sessions’ opposition to bipartisan criminal justice reform legislation. According to Booker, Sessions’ record does not indicate he is best for defending the rights of America’s most vulnerable.

“I am literally sitting here because of people, marchers in Alabama and volunteer lawyers in New Jersey, who saw it as their affirmative duty to pursue justice to fight discrimination to stand up for those who are marginalized,” Booker said.

10. Rep. John Lewis began his statement with his own personal story about growing up in Alabama not far from where Sessions was raised.

“There was no way to escape or deny the choke hold of discrimination,” Lewis said. “The forces of law and order in Alabama were so strong that to take a stand against this injustice, we had to be willing to sacrifice our lives for the cause.”

Lewis’ legacy is cemented in his activism to uphold the legislation that Sessions spent his own lifetime fighting.

“It took massive, well-organized nonviolent descent for the Voting Rights Act to become law, required criticism of this great nation and its laws to move toward a greater sense of equality,” Lewis explained.

Alexandra Rosenmann is an AlterNet associate editor. Follow her @alexpreditor.

IMAGE: Senate Democratic Women to Outline How Women are More Burdened by Student Loan Debt, in Part Due to the Gender Wage Gap (Senate Democrats/Flickr)

Congress Needs More Details On Iran Nuclear Deal, Top GOP Senator Says

By David Willman, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — With the details of a nuclear agreement with Iran still being debated, a prominent Senate Republican said Sunday that Congress should insist on learning more before deciding whether to support a final deal.

Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he will seek the panel’s vote as soon as April 14 on his proposal to prohibit President Barack Obama from suspending economic sanctions against Iran for 60 days while Congress reviews the matter.

Obama has warned Congress against doing so, suggesting that it could scuttle a deal. In exchange for Iran’s compliance with terms aimed at preventing its development of nuclear weapons, a variety of sanctions imposed by the U.S. and five other world powers would be relaxed or withdrawn.

“Many, many details are unknown at this point,” Corker said on Fox News Sunday. “I don’t know how anyone could really ascertain whether this is something good or bad yet for the American citizenry.”

Corker — who last month declined to join 47 other GOP senators in signing a public letter to Iranian leaders that warned that the enforceability of provisions agreed to by Obama might not outlast his administration — continued Sunday to stake a more centrist position.

“This is the place for sober and thoughtful people to dig in,” he said. “I want to see a negotiated agreement.”

Corker said that he had conferred three times in recent days with U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, a nuclear scientist who participated in the negotiations with Iran.

Moniz, appearing Sunday on CBS’s Face the Nation, strongly endorsed the framework agreed to by Iran, the U.S., Germany, France, Britain, Russia, and China.

He said the terms would limit Iran’s enrichment of uranium and provide international inspectors with “unprecedented access and transparency.”
“If they fail to meet any of the requirements, we are going to know,” Moniz said, adding that existing economic sanctions would be relaxed “only when they have substantially complied.”

Moniz’s enthusiasm was echoed by Benjamin J. Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser to Obama, who said on CNN’s GPS that, “on the merits, this is a very strong deal.”

Additional support for the pending deal was voiced Sunday by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif, who also chided Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his staunch opposition.

“I think this is the best that’s going to get done,” Feinstein said on CNN’s State of the Union. “It’s a better agreement, candidly, than I thought it was ever going to be.”

Feinstein, the ranking Democrat serving on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, added, “We’re on the cusp of something that can be workable.”

Asked about Netanyahu’s opposition, which the prime minister reiterated Sunday on ABC’s This Week, Feinstein said: “This can backfire on him. And I wish that he would contain himself.”

(c)2015 Tribune Co., Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Photo: Sen. Bob Corker (Courtesy U.S. Embassy of Moldova via Flickr)

CIA’s Former Top Lawyer Fires Back At Senate Report, Criticizes Feinstein

By James Rosen, McClatchy Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — The CIA’s former top lawyer disputes Senate findings that the spy agency lied about its brutal interrogations of terrorists, insisting the tactics produced useful intelligence and flatly denying that the CIA misled the Bush administration, Congress and the American public.

At the same time, John Rizzo, who left the CIA as acting general counsel in 2009, said some CIA employees or contractors were overzealous in the use of the tactics but that the CIA informed lawyers at the Justice Department of the excesses.

Rizzo was responsible for helping to create the legal foundation for permitting waterboarding, extreme sleep deprivation and other aggressive methods he says were used on 30 people held at secret “black sites” around the world.

In his first extensive interview since McClatchy published the 20 key findings of the Senate Intelligence Committee report last week, Rizzo strongly denied the panel’s conclusion that the 10 so-called enhanced interrogation techniques, which he acknowledged were brutal, had failed to produce significant intelligence or to prevent more terrorist attacks.

“This program went on for six years,” Rizzo told McClatchy earlier this week. “And I watched daily — every night there was a meeting in those early years at 5 o’clock. It was chaired by the CIA director, George Tenet. And every night, during the course of those briefings, the career CIA analysts and operatives would sit there and recite the information that had been acquired from these detainees. I mean on a daily basis. I’m not an analyst or an operative, but I’m not stupid, and I sat there and listened to this relentlessly.”

Rizzo, who said he hadn’t seen the Senate report but only the published accounts of it, noted that some of the CIA officers and analysts providing updates on the interrogation sessions “were not generally enamored of the Bush administration” and thus weren’t inclined to exaggerate the interrogation program’s effectiveness.

“I was convinced that these techniques were yielding detailed, valuable information into terrorist plots,” Rizzo said. “Now was there ever a ticking time-bomb scenario? I don’t remember a particular (case of): ‘Tomorrow, LAX (airport) is going to blow up,’ but it was incremental and it was steady. And I became convinced just by listening to these career people that the program was yielding very, very valuable benefits.”

Rizzo’s central involvement in crafting the interrogation techniques led Senate Democrats to block his confirmation as CIA general counsel in 2007. He then served as acting general counsel until retiring in October 2009.

Rizzo’s comments mark the first detailed response from a current or former CIA official to the Senate report, which took four years to complete at a taxpayer cost of $40 million.

With Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama claiming to have protected the homeland from follow-on terrorist attacks to the Sept. 11, 2001, tragedy, the escalating fight between the Senate and the CIA raises an important question:

Did the aggressive interrogation techniques, which some current and former U.S. officials and foreign governments say constituted torture, help protect Americans?

Obama formally ended use of the tough interrogation methods within days of taking office in January 2009. Their use had subsided and several of the harsh methods had been abandoned in 2006, after Justice Department opinions justifying them were made public and U.S. abuses of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq caused an international uproar.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, hasn’t released the 6,300-page report on her aides’ review of the interrogation program. The committee voted to send the report, its executive summary and the findings to the White House for declassification.

Rizzo, who last year published memoirs called “Company Man” in which he described the birth and development of the detainee interrogations, also rebutted the Senate report’s conclusion that “the CIA repeatedly provided inaccurate information to the Department of Justice, impeding a proper legal analysis of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program,” according to a McClatchy article last week.

“It’s just false,” Rizzo said of the finding. “If the implication is that — and it has to be directed at me — that I purposely misled the Department of Justice about what the techniques were and how they were being implemented, I absolutely reject that.”

Rizzo, who’s likely to be named in the Senate’s investigative report, said it was his idea to seek legal justification for the interrogation program — and to make sure it didn’t violate U.S. and international anti-torture laws and conventions — by asking the Justice Department to provide detailed legal memos.

Three of the Justice Department memos, drafted by then-Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo, sparked widespread controversy when they were released between 2004 and 2008 because of their detailed descriptions of the approved interrogation techniques, among them waterboarding — which simulates drowning — prolonged sleep deprivation, wall standing, facial hold, insult slap and cramped confinement in a box.

“I understand why the public found those memos shocking because they ARE explicit,” Rizzo said. “But that’s the way I wanted them to be, so that there would be no misunderstanding about what we were going to do and how we were going to do it.”

Rizzo’s response to the Senate report is likely to further exacerbate already high tensions between the CIA and the main Senate committee charged with overseeing it under a broad constitutional mandate.

Feinstein, D-Calif., has accused the CIA of monitoring the committee’s computers and possibly impeding its investigation by removing digital documents her aides had identified. The agency, in turn, said Feinstein’s staff removed unauthorized documents from a secret CIA facility. Both sets of charges have been referred to the Justice Department for possible criminal investigation.

In a passionate 45-minute speech on the Senate floor last month, Feinstein said the CIA may have broken the law and even violated the Constitution by infiltrating her aides’ computers and obstructing a Senate oversight investigation.

For his part, Rizzo partially agreed with another key finding of the Senate probe: “The CIA subjected detainees to interrogation techniques that had not been approved by the Department of Justice or had not been authorized by CIA headquarters.”

Rizzo acknowledged there were excesses that went beyond the 10 enhanced interrogation techniques he’d vetted within the CIA and then cleared with the Justice Department.

“There were incidents when CIA interrogators went beyond the authorized techniques. So I’m not denying that,” he said. “It didn’t occur frequently, but it did occur. But the point is, each time that was done and discovered, CIA reported it to the Department of Justice because anything that was beyond the authorized scope of the techniques was potentially a criminal violation. … So that conclusion (of the committee) is actually accurate. But if the idea is that we covered this up, nothing could be further from the truth.”

AFP Photo/Saul Loeb

Obama Caught Between CIA And Senator

By Kathleen Hennessey, Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — A bitter fight between Sen. Dianne Feinstein and CIA Director John Brennan has President Barack Obama caught between a powerful political ally and a trusted senior adviser, a bind likely to tighten as the dispute raises questions of executive power and touches on a key piece of the president’s legacy.

In the days since the California Democrat angrily accused the CIA of trying to thwart her investigation into its now-defunct interrogation and detention program, the White House has tried not to take sides publicly. Obama went out of his way say the case was under review at the Justice Department and that he would not “wade into” it.

Obama has good reason to try to maintain distance.

As head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Feinstein has defended the administration on several intelligence-related issues, including the CIA’s embrace of lethal drone strikes. As one of the most senior Democrats in the Senate, she also has a reputation for remembering — and punishing — those who she believes have not treated her appropriately.

Brennan was Obama’s senior adviser on counterterrorism before the president picked him to head the CIA. His tenure could turn on whether the rank and file at the spy agency believe he has defended them against what they see as congressional Democrats’ unfair accusations of torture.

But neutrality may be difficult for the president to maintain. The tug of war over classified documents between an executive-branch agency and its congressional overseers has sharp constitutional overtones.

Obama is juggling political interests and legal precedent. He and previous presidents have long defended the executive’s right to withhold documents from Congress to ensure that advisers feel free to speak candidly without fear their words will later haunt them.

The tension was evident Thursday as the White House acknowledged that it withheld thousands of pages of documents from Feinstein’s Senate investigators out of “executive branch confidentiality interests.” McClatchy Newspapers reported that more than 9,000 documents were withheld.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama’s aides believe the material — part of 6 million pages turned over — is not necessary to complete the Senate report, nearly five years in the making, on the so-called “enhanced interrogation” program launched by the George W. Bush administration after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“All of these documents pertain to and come from a previous administration,” Carney said. “They have nothing to do with this administration. But these are matters that need to be reviewed in light of long-recognized executive prerogative and confidence — confidentiality interests.”

Obama has not invoked executive privilege because the White House is engaged in discussions with the committee about the files, Carney said.

White House lawyers were alerted before the CIA made its criminal referrals to the Justice Department. But they did not condone the move, Carney noted.

“There was no comment, there was no weighing in, there was no judgment,” he said.

White House officials say every congressional inquiry requires some negotiations over documents. Still, they acknowledge the awkwardness of this case: Obama is wrestling with fellow Democrats to block release of Bush administration records about a CIA program that he fervently opposed and ended as soon as he entered the White House.

The more immediate question is whether the CIA, or Senate staffers, broke the law.

The CIA’s inspector general made a criminal referral to the Justice Department to determine whether, as Feinstein claims, CIA officials improperly searched activity logs of computers that Senate staffers used to review files about waterboarding and other now-banned techniques used at secret CIA prisons.

But the CIA’s acting counsel also made a criminal referral to the Justice Department, alleging that Senate staffers improperly copied and removed documents that they should not have seen. The documents were internal drafts of a report prepared for then-CIA Director Leon E. Panetta — the sort of documents often withheld under claims of executive privilege.

So far, the White House has stood by the agency. The current spat thus only widens the rift between Obama and fellow Democrats in Congress, and in his party’s liberal base, regarding trust in America’s spy agencies.

AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski