Sessions pressed on lack of minorities in his staff, US attorney nominees

Sessions' full opening statement to Congress
Sessions' full opening statement to Congress

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Sessions' full opening statement to Congress 10:17

Story highlights

  • Sessions acknowledged he lacks a single black senior staff member
  • Lawmakers asked about voter ID laws, criminal justice reform and handling of racially motivated extremist groups

Washington (CNN)Members of the Congressional Black Caucus on Tuesday pressed Attorney General Jeff Sessions on his and his department's handling of race, including the lack of minorities in key Justice Department positions

Under questioning from CBC Chairman Cedric Richmond at the House judiciary committee hearing, Sessions acknowledged he lacks a single black senior staff member and there are hardly any black nominees for judgeships or US attorney positions, but said diversity remains an important consideration.
"I do not have a senior staff member at this time that's an African-American," Sessions said, adding that he recommended African-Americans for positions in his time serving Alabama.
    Richmond said that per his research, 91% of the administration's judicial nominees were white males and only one US attorney nominee has been African-American.
    "I'm not aware of the numbers," Sessions said. "But we should look for quality candidates, and I think diversity is a matter that has significance."
    Richmond noted that he testified before the Senate judiciary committee against Sessions' confirmation, saying at the time Sessions' record on civil rights was inadequate to serve in the role.
    The questions about diversity were just some of the themes raised by Democratic lawmakers questioning Sessions.
    Lawmakers asked about voter ID laws, criminal justice reform and handling of racially motivated extremist groups.
    Richmond asked about the difference in the way the government responded to crack cocaine in past decades, imposing harsh mandatory minimums, and the current epidemic with opioid abuse in this country.
    "How does an outside observer reconcile how we treated crack which led to mass incarceration which now with an epidemic we're losing thousands and thousands of people a year and we're treating it with hugs and kisses and treatment as opposed to 'tough on crime, lock 'em up,'" Richmond said. "How do I reconcile that and not conclude that the only difference is race and income?"
    "The federal court focuses on serious offenders, not users," Sessions said, saying the government would not pursue "mass incarceration."
    California Democratic Rep. Karen Bass also pressed Sessions on issues of race, asking him about a report that the FBI prepared material on "black identity extremists."
    Sessions said he hadn't read the report or ordered it, but gave a definition of the term as he understands it.
    "I am aware that there are groups that do have an extraordinary commitment to their racial identity," Sessions said. "And some have transformed themselves even into violent activists."
    Bass asked if there were any report on "white identity extremists." Sessions said he was not aware of any similar report on white supremacist groups.
    Bass expressed concern that legitimate protesters could be labeled extremists to justify their targeting by law enforcement.
    "This department will not unlawfully target people," Sessions said.