U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for attorney general promised on Tuesday to stand up to Trump, his close ally and future boss, saying he would oppose a ban on Muslims entering the country and enforce a law against waterboarding even though he voted against the law.
Questioned by a U.S. Senate committee tasked with confirming his appointment, Senator Jeff Sessions distanced himself from comments he had made defending Trump from criticism over a 2005 video that emerged in October showing Trump boasting about grabbing women’s genitals.
At the time Sessions told The Weekly Standard magazine he would not characterize the behavior as sexual assault. He later said the comments were taken out of context. Asked on Tuesday whether “grabbing a woman by her genitals without consent is … sexual assault,” he replied, “Clearly, it would be.”
With 10 days to go before Trump takes office, Sessions, 70, was the first Cabinet nominee to face questioning. He appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Trump’s pick to run the Department of Homeland Security, retired Marine Corps General John Kelly, later went before the Homeland Security committee.
As attorney general, Sessions will serve as the top U.S. federal prosecutor and be responsible for giving unbiased legal advice to the president and executive agencies.
With that in mind, lawmakers from both Trump’s Republican Party and the rival Democratic Party sought to establish how closely Sessions hewed to Trump positions and whether he could put aside his staunchly conservative political positions to enforce laws he may personally oppose.
A senator since 1997, Sessions was widely expected to be confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate.
Protesters accusing Sessions of having a poor record on human rights interrupted the Capitol Hill proceedings several times.