WASHINGTON – His new attorney general once lost a job over alleged racism against blacks. His new national-security adviser not only blasts Muslims, but has also reportedly been paid recently by the governments of Russia and Turkey.
Donald Trump made one thing clear Friday: He will appoint loyalists to top positions — controversy be damned.
Trump has named as his attorney general Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, the first senator to support his presidential bid. Sessions would become the top law-enforcement official in the country. An immigration hawk today, Sessions first made national news when allegations of racism cost him a judgeship.
“I am not a racist. I am not insensitive to blacks. I have supported civil rights activity in my state,” he testified before the Senate in 1986, as it rejected his judicial nomination.
“I detest the (Ku Klux) Klan.”
That’s not what witnesses told his Senate hearing. They said the Alabama lawyer called the NAACP un-American, referred to a white lawyer working with black clients as a race-traitor, and joked about supporting the Ku Klux Klan until learning its members smoked pot.
He was rejected. One well-known committee member, the late Ted Kennedy, called it inconceivable that a person of Sessions’ attitude was qualified to be a U.S. attorney — let alone be a federal judge.
Three decades later, Trump has made him the country’s top justice official. In defence of the appointment, Trump’s entourage Friday pointed to more recent comments from a Senate colleague.
Republican-turned-Democrat Arlen Specter later said that of the 10,000 votes he cast as a senator, this was the one he regretted: “My vote against candidate Sessions for the federal court was a mistake… I have since found that Sen. Sessions is egalitarian.”
Sessions may have inherited his first and middle names from the southern confederacy — president Jefferson Davis and general P.G.T. Beauregard. Yet he’s spoken frequently in favour of another historic southern figure: Rosa Parks. Sessions helped get money for a library in honour of the civil-rights hero from his state, as well as a congressional gold medal.
He could still face another confirmation fight.
While Republicans have just enough votes to confirm him, opposition groups are hoping to twist some arms. One Republican congressman, Justin Amash, tweeted his concern about the appointment.
The NAACP called it an unfathomable pick — describing him as a longtime opponent of civil-rights measures.
“It is unimaginable that he could be entrusted to serve as … chief law enforcement officer,” the group said in a statement.
“This is yet another signal from the incoming administration that it is not only prepared to turn its back on equality, it is actively working to continue to sow division and undo decades of progress.”
Trump’s other controversial pick — for national security adviser — doesn’t need congressional confirmation.
Retired general Michael Flynn was the highest-ranking former military figure to back Trump. He left the military after falling out of favour with the Obama administration, partly over his calls for a more aggressive approach to fighting terrorism.
His use of language also ran counter to an administration hoping to build alliances with Muslims — not antagonize them. Flynn takes a different approach. He recently tweeted a video that presented Muslims as a global threat, telling his followers, “Fear of Muslims is rational: please forward this to others: the truth fears no questions.”
Speaking at the Republican convention last summer, Flynn expressed outrage at the soft-touch approach of the Obama White House. He also encouraged the crowd as it chanted about arresting Hillary Clinton: “That’s right! Lock her up,” Flynn chimed in.
“I am infuriated when our president bans criticism of our enemies,” he said. “I am deadly certain that we cannot win this war (on terrorism) unless we are free to call our enemies by name: radical Islamists and failed tyrants.”
Because his position does not require a confirmation hearing, senators will not immediately have the opportunity to question him about reported recent payments from the governments of Turkey and Russia.
He has admitted to being paid for an appearance by the Kremlin-run news outlet Russia Today — but hasn’t disclosed the dollar amount. He also sat next to Vladimir Putin at a dinner in Moscow last year honouring the news outlet. The Green party presidential candidate, Jill Stein, was also at the table.
Friday’s appointments drew a celebratory blog post from David Duke, the former imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan: “We must demand the protection of the civil rights of all Americans including white people!… Bravo President Trump! Some Great First Steps!”
When a journalist tweeted his frustration that people were giving Duke attention, a former senior adviser to President Barack Obama, Dan Pfeiffer, replied: “Disagree. We should all ask ourselves what it means that we have a president-elect that causes white supremacists to squeal with joy.”