United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been deeply criticized for his racist, sexist, and anti-LGBTI policies.
On Tuesday, 14 November, Sessions faced the House Judiciary Committee for almost five hours to address his repeated lies about communication with Russian officials.
While the Republicans, who are mostly straight, white, cisgender men, unsurprisingly went easy on Sessions, the Democrats provided the aggressive questioning.
Democratic House members who were female, people of color, Jewish, and LGBTI questioned Sessions’ lies as well as his antiquated views on everything from race relations to health care.
One of the most serious lines of questioning came from Rhode Island representative David Cicilline, who is gay.
Representative Cicilline’s grilling of Jeff Sessions
‘My first question is has any White House employee or official, including the president, contacted the Justice Department regarding the AT&T-Time Warner transaction or any other transaction?’ Cicilline asked, referring to the merging of AT&T and Time Warner which could violate antitrust laws.
‘I’m not able to comment on conversations or communications the Department of Justice has with top people at the White House,’ Sessions responded.
‘Mr. Chairman, I ask that the witness be directed to answer the question. Either you’re invoking the Fifth Amendment or you’re invoking Executive Privilege. You can’t just decline to answer because it’s uncomfortable,’ Cicilline stated.
When Sessions still declined to answer, Cicilline asked another question, this time about the Foreign Agents Registration Act. This act requires people acting on behalf of foreign agencies to publicly and periodically disclose their relationship.
‘You think it’s good policy? You enforce it?’ Cicilline asked. Sessions responded affirmatively.
‘In addition to Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn, have any other Trump campaign advisors or senior administration officials lobbied for foreign governments without disclosing it under the Foreign Agents Registration Act?’
‘I’m not able to comment on that,’ Sessions replied.
‘Why not?’ asked Cicilline.
Sessions stutters, and then asks Cicilline to repeat the question in case he ‘misunderstood it.’
Cicilline repeated himself, only for Sessions to state that the question should ‘really be directed at Mr. Mueller.’
Religious Liberty guidelines
Again, moving on, Cicilline then asks a question about the guidelines of religious liberty protections under federal law. This is something that widely affects LGBTI people, who are often discriminated against under the guise of religious freedom.
‘On October 6th, the Department of Justice… actually, you, on behalf of the Department of Justice, issued a 25 page memo to all federal agencies purporting to provide guidance on religious liberty protections under federal law. In the guidance, you indicate that an exemption or accommodation for religious organizations from anti-discrimination law might be required even where Congress has not expressly exempted religious organizations. You remember that, right?’
‘Yes,’ Sessions responds hesitantly.
‘What that means, under your interpretation, is that an employee of FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] could refuse to provide disaster assistance to an unmarried couple who lived together based on the employee’s religious belief that men and women should not cohabitate before marriage?’
‘I don’t believe it should be interpreted that way… the policy document, we didn’t write it,’ Sessions backtracks before being cut off by Cicilline.
‘This is a yes or no,’ Cicilline says. ‘Would the guidance you provided permit a HUD [Housing and Urban Development]-funded shelter to refuse to house an unmarried pregnant woman based on the grant recipient’s belief that sex before marriage is a sin? Yes or no.’
Sessions stutters again. ‘First… I don’t think so, number one, under the guidance. But also the guidance does not repeal established laws that are in place, and it was written, that guidance was, to clarify established…’
Back to the Russia convo
Cicilline cuts off Sessions’ non-answer response again, and returns to the issue of George Papadopoulos, a former member of the foreign policy advisory panel during Trump’s campaign.
‘In your October 18th testimony, you proport to have “forgotten” this conversation by Mr. Papadopoulos about Russia that you put an end to. You said you weren’t being dishonest, you weren’t being impulsive, you simply forgot it. Do you remember that testimony?’
‘Something like that,’ Sessions replies.
‘When did you remember the remarks of Mr. Papadopoulos? When did that memory come back to you?’
‘When it was revealed in the press,’ Sessions replied, hesitating.
‘Mr. Sessions, you are a senior campaign official and a member of the national security team. Did you ever exchange any email, text message, or any other communication to or from Mr. Papadopoulos? About Russia? Or any other subject?’
And yet again, Sessions has Cicilline repeat the question.
‘I do not believe so,’ Sessions stutters. ‘I… I… I’m confident I didn’t.’
‘Did anyone ever forward you a communication from Mr. Papadopoulos?’ Cicilline asks.
‘I don’t recall it.’
‘Did anyone from the campaign ever communicate with you about Mr. Papadopoulos?’
‘I can’t say that there were no conversations about him before or after this event… I don’t have a specific recollection, Mr. Chairman.’
It was then that Rep. Cicilline entered into the records proof of the Trump campaigns antitrust plans as well as nine letters directed to Sessions which he ignored.
Watch Cicilline’s full takedown of Sessions below:
See what other Democratic congresspeople had to say to Sessions here.