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  January 5, 2017

Former Colleague of Jeff Sessions Says Trump's Pick Unqualified to be Attorney General

Veteran civil rights prosecutor Gerald Hebert, who opposed Sessions's bid for judgeship in 1986, says the senator has opposed virtually all civil rights legislation
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JAISAL NOOR: Six civil rights leaders with the NAACP were arrested on Tuesday after staging a sit-in at Senator Jeff Sessions' office to protest the nominee for U.S. Attorney General.

CORNELL WILLIAM BROOKS: We thoughtfully broke the law so that we might have someone who will enforce all the laws as our chief law enforcement officer of the United States.

JAISAL NOOR: Sessions is facing renewed criticism for his past racist comments and record on voting and civil rights. Over 1,300 law professors have signed a letter opposing Sessions' confirmation set to take place on January 10th and 11th. And a former Justice Department colleague of Sessions, whose 1986 testimony played a pivotal role in prompting a Republican-controlled committee to block Sessions from becoming a federal judge, is speaking out again.

J. GERALD HEBERT: If I were, in 1986, Jeff Sessions, and I had been accused of being essentially a racist, and I believed in my heart that I was not, I would have spent the next 30 years proving that I wasn't. And he hasn't done that.

DONALD TRUMP: ...Jeff Sessions.


DONALD TRUMP: Where is Jeff?

JAISAL NOOR: President-elect Donald Trump in November named Sessions to lead the Justice Department and FBI, and his history will again come under scrutiny from fellow senators during a confirmation process next week.

Sessions had been nominated by Ronald Reagan for a federal judgeship in the '80s, but the Republican-controlled Judiciary Committee at the time took the highly unusual step of blocking his nomination, making him only the second nominee in 50 years to be denied confirmation. Here is a news report from the hearing:

JANE PAULEY: One of Mr. Reagan's nominees is in trouble in Washington, in trouble for saying that the NAACP is a pinko organization, and that a white civil rights attorney from his home state of Alabama is a disgrace to his race.

JAISAL NOOR: That specific testimony was provided by Gerry Hebert, who worked with Jeff Sessions in the early '80s, when Sessions was a US attorney to Alabama and Hebert was a DOJ lawyer.

J. GERALD HEBERT: Very conflicted at the time. I mean, I was a young lawyer in the Justice Department, and I knew Jeff really well. I had been in that office down in Mobile where he was U.S. attorney. Saw him every day for months at a time when I was trying a big case there.

JAISAL NOOR: We reached Hebert who is currently Director of the Voting Rights and Redistricting Program at the Campaign Legal Center.

J. GERALD HEBERT: All of a sudden, one day, sitting in my office in the Justice Department, I got a phone call from my supervisor saying that a car was picking me up, that I was being taken up to the Senate, and I was to testify on the Sessions nomination.

JAISAL NOOR: Hebert said he testified in front of Congress at Sessions' hearing, even though his job was threatened.

J. GERALD HEBERT: Just before I testified, Senator Thurman's lawyer, who was head of the Judiciary Committee at the time in the Senate, along with the Senator from Alabama, Jeremiah Denton, brought me into a kind of a cloakroom off the back and threatened me and said I better get out there and straighten out the Sessions nomination or I might find myself without a job when I got back to the Justice Department.

I stand by my testimony in 1986. Jeff Sessions never really denied what I said. He stated at one point that he had a tendency to pop off or things like that, and he said he didn't know why he said it. He called the ACLU and the NAACP un-American, commie pinko, I think was another term I remember him using.

EDWARD KENNEDY: Sessions is a throwback to a shameful era which I know both black and white Americans thought was in our past. It's inconceivable to me that a person of this attitude is qualified to be a U.S. attorney, let alone a United States federal judge.

J. GERALD HEBERT: And then, of course, there was the issue about a federal judge who reportedly had referred to a white civil rights lawyer in Mobile, a colleague of mine that I actually worked with, as a disgrace to his race, because he was handling a civil rights case in his hometown, and Jeff Sessions had essentially agreed with that and said, "You know, maybe he is." And he didn't appear to be joking at the time, and I really left it up to Jeff to get up and testify and answer why he said those things. And he really didn't have a response. He denied a lot of what other people said about him at the time, but he never really denied what I said that he told me.

JAISAL NOOR: Hebert was also joined by two other former colleagues to write a now-viral Washington Post op-ed that raises serious issues about the questionnaire Jeff Sessions filled out ahead of his confirmation hearing scheduled for next week.

J. GERALD HEBERT: We looked at that list, and three or four of those cases were ones that we handled personally when we were at the Justice Department, and we knew he didn't really have any involvement substantively in any of those cases. So we felt that the Senate colleagues that he has who are on the Judiciary Committee, as well as members of the public, ought to know that he really can't be taking credit for other people's work.

JAISAL NOOR: Herbert says Sessions has voted against civil rights legislation as a Senator.

J. GERALD HEBERT: Every single civil rights measure that has come up in Congress -- he voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act for Women. He voted against the Hate Crimes Bill when Matthew Shepard and James Byrd -- one, murdered because he was gay, the other dragged behind a truck because he was black, by some white supremacists -- the Hate Crimes Bill was really important to our nation. He's voted against nominees to be federal judges including Justice Sotomayor and Elena Kagan -- two females, one a Latina, who are eminently qualified to be on the Supreme Court of the United States -- voted against Loretta Lynch to be the Attorney General, refers to federal judges who have any role at all with the ACLU as having ACLU DNA, and ACLU chromosomes, and things like that. I mean, that shows to me that he really hasn't grown up very much over the 30 years. And that, in fact, I don't really want someone like that having the responsibility to enforce the laws that he voted against.

JAISAL NOOR: Go to for our continued conversation with Gerry Hebert, a former colleague of Jeff Sessions.




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