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Summary

  1. Jeff Sessions, Donald Trump's pick for attorney general, is being grilled by the Senate Judiciary Committee
  2. When challenged by Democrats, Senator Sessions, 69, defends his civil rights record
  3. The Alabama senator says an Obama executive order protecting some illegal immigrants is "questionable"
  4. He says he will recuse himself from any investigation into former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton
  5. If confirmed, he will be America's 84th attorney general

Live Reporting

By Robert Greenall

All times stated are UK

Sessions Senate grilling continues...

Senator Jeff Sessions during his Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.
Reuters

That's all for the live page today, but check back tomorrow for more from day two of Sen Sessions' hearings along with coverage of hearings for former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State nominee, Mike Pompeo, nominated for CIA director, and Elaine Chao, prospective Transportation Secretary. 

Ted Cruz condemns Obama administration

Ted Cruz used a large part of his time criticise the Obama administration and, more specifically, former Attorney General Eric Holder. 

He said he enthusiastically supported Sen Sessions' nomination, noting he would make a "superb" attorney general. 

During Mr Cruz's remarks, more protesters were escorted out of the room as they chanted: “Black Lives Matter” and “Sessions is a racist!”

Senator Durbin challenges Sessions on immigration

Democratic Senator Richard Durbin challenged Sen Sessions on immigration, saying he would be unable to resolve the challenge of a broken system fairly. 

The nominee responded that he could, and warned against a "cycle of amnesty". Here's a clip of the exchange: 

Democrat to Sessions: "Tell me I'm wrong"

Lunch break

The Senate Judiciary Committee chairman announces a half-hour break for lunch.

Sessions defends zero-tolerance border policy

Sen Sessions said he thought a zero-tolerance policy for illegal immigration introduced on Arizona's border with Mexico was very effective, and called for rules that undermined it to be re-examined.

Has Barack Obama improved race relations?

With race relations a theme running through Sen Sessions' confirmation hearing, the BBC's Nick Bryant has been reflecting on the legacy of America's first black president:

"America's racial problems have not melted away merely because Obama has spent eight years in the White House. Far from it," he writes.

"Indeed, the insurmountable problem for Obama was that he reached the mountaintop on day one of his presidency.

"Achieving anything on the racial front that surpassed becoming the country's first black president was always going to be daunting. Compounding that problem were the unrealistically high expectations surrounding his presidency."

Read Nick's full piece here.

On calls for Hillary Clinton to be jailed

Asked by Sen Sheldon Whitehouse whether he ever chanted "lock her up", referring to Hillary Clinton, during the election campaign, Mr Sessions said he did not.

The slogan was often used by Donald Trump at his campaign rallies to call for Mrs Clinton to be jailed over her use of a private email server while she was secretary of state.

Sessions 'will cause crime to get even worse', activist tweets

Samuel Sinyangwe, an activist in New York, took issue with the link Sen Sessions apparently drew between criticism of the police, and an increase in urban crime. 

In a thread tweeted to his 37,000 followers, Sinyangwe argues that Sen Sessions does not understand the problem - and neither does the all-white committee.

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Analysis: Racism accusations

Anthony Zurcher

BBC North America reporter

Jeff Sessions during his confirmation hearing
AP

When Jeff Sessions entered the Senate Committee chambers for his attorney general confirmation hearings, he was greeted by two protesters in the audience posing as Ku Klux Klan members, addressing him by his very southern-sounding first and middle names:

“Jefferson Beauregard, you speak for the people,” they shouted.

Although much of the Democratic criticism of Sen Sessions has focused on his Senate voting record so far, the subject of Southern racism - and past accusations of racist jokes made by the attorney general nominee in the 1980s - hang over the proceedings.

In the run-up to his confirmation hearings, Trump transition officials and their media supporters have been touting what they contend is Mr Sessions’ strong record on civil rights.

During his opening remarks, Mr Sessions attempted to get the jump on his critics.

“I deeply understand the history of civil rights and the horrendous impact that relentless and systemic discrimination and the denial of voting rights has had on our African-American brothers and sisters,” he said. “I have witnessed it."

The most telling moment early in the proceedings was when fellow southern Senator Lindsey Graham questioned Jeff Sessions about how he felt being accused of racism

“When you have a southern name and come from South Alabama, that sounds worse to some people," he said, as Sen Graham nodded in agreement.

Sen Sessions added that he was "caricatured" during his failed judicial nomination in 1986 and he "didn't respond very well".

The attorney general’s detractors have already pounced on the exchange as an example of how the Republican Party doesn’t understand.

“It's a microcosm of this country's "conversation" around race,” tweeted Slate’s Jamelle Bouie. “How it makes some people feel is more important than, say, public policy.”

It's a microcosm of this country's "conversation" around race. How it makes some people feel is more important than, say, public policy.

Sessions quizzed on police relations

The senator was also quizzed on the relationship between police and the public - at a time of tense race relations and increasing criticism of the police.

Sen Sessions said he felt that criticism of a few officers' actions was being applied to the whole service.

He also seemed to suggest there was a link between the "decreasing morale" of police forces and an increase in crime in Baltimore and Chicago.

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Civil rights groups tweet from the hearing

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People - an established civil rights group - has been tweeting from the hearing room.

The American Civil Liberties Union has also been following the case - and has been tweeting criticism of the prospective attorney general.

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Religious freedom a 'high priority'

Sen Sessions stresses that - if confirmed - religious freedom "would be a very high priority of mine".

Guantanamo Bay suits its purpose 'remarkably well'

Asked about the controversial Guantanamo Bay prison, Sen Session said it should stay open.

“It fits [its] purpose marvellously well. It's a safe place to keep prisoners. We’ve invested a lot of money in that and I believe it should be utilised in that fashion," he said.

At that point he was interrupted by a protester.

Sen Graham, before resuming his questions, said sarcastically: “I think they’re on the fence about gitmo but I’m not sure.”

Russian hacking claims

Asked whether he believes the accusations of Russian hacking during the US presidential campaign, Sen Sessions answers: "I've done no research into that."

He then agrees with a Senate member that he should be briefed on the issue as soon as possible.

Sessions quizzed on hate crime legislation

Sen Patrick Leahy
AP

Sen Sessions is asked about his comments about not being sure that women, or people of different sexual orientations, face the kind of discrimination that hate crimes legislation is designed to prevent.

“That does not sound like something I said or intended to say,” he said - before Sen Leahy interrupts to assure Mr Sessions he did, in fact, say it.

“I’ve seen things taken out of context,” he said.

In a back-and-forth exchange, he said his concerns were mainly that states, rather than the federal government, should consider the issue.

Pressed on his previous objections to the expansion of hate crime legislation, he was simply asked: “Do you still feel that way?”

“The law has been passed, the congress has spoken – you can be sure I will enforce it,” Sen Session replied.

Two more protesters removed

The hearing has been interrupted yet again, as two more people begin to chant the same phrase - "No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA".

They are both quickly removed, and the hearing continues.

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Muslim ban controversy

Asked whether he agrees that the US should deny entry to members of a particular religion (a reference to Donald Trump's campaign comments on banning Muslims from entering the country), Sen Sessions answers: "I believe the president-elect has, subsequent to that statement, made clear that he believes the focus should be on individuals coming from countries that have a history of terrorism." 

"And he's also indicated that's his policy, and what he suggests is the strong vetting of people from those countries before they are admitted to the US." 

Analysis: Sessions and the Clinton case

Anthony Zurcher

BBC North America reporter

Sen Sessions, left, shakes Donald Trump's hand during the campaign
EPA

During the presidential campaign, Sen Sessions was often sharply critical of Hillary Clinton. 

He said that the FBI should have been more aggressive in investigating her use of a private email system and possible corruption in the Clinton family’s charitable foundation.

But if he becomes attorney general, he will be responsible, among other duties, for overseeing the FBI and government corruption investigations.

Perhaps recognising that his prior comments could make him a target for attacks from Clinton supporters and others on the left, Mr Sessions tried to sidestep this potential political minefield.

More than that, he seemed to downplay the prospect of any renewed investigation into Mrs Clinton now that she has returned to private life.

"We cannot have a political dispute turn into a criminal dispute,” he told the committee. “This country does not punish its political enemies."

Mr Trump himself has said since his election that he is uninterested in following up on his campaign comments that Mrs Clinton should be sent to jail – and the attorney general nominee appears to be following the president-elect’s lead.

Assurances, of course, are not guarantees. 

And even if Mr Sessions recuses himself from involvement in the Justice Department, his subordinates would be free to pursue any action they see fit.

Same-sex marriage

Sen Jeff Sessions during his confirmation hearing
EPA
Sen Jeff Sessions during his confirmation hearing

Sen Sessions was asked whether he agreed that the issue of same-sex marriage was settled law.

He replied by saying that the Supreme Court had ruled and he would respect this. 

"The dissents dissented vigorously - but it was five to four. And five justices on the Supreme Court, a majority of the court, have established the definition of marriage for the entire USA and I will follow that decision."

In June 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage was a legal right across the country.

Roe v Wade 'violated the constitution' - Sessions

In questioning, Sen Feinstein quizzed Mr Sessions on Roe v Wade - the United States' landmark abortion case of the 1970s.

In the past, Sen Sessions called the case "one of the worst colossally erroneous Supreme Court decisions of all time".

Asked if that is still his belief he said: 

"It is. I believe it violated the constitution, it really attempted to set policy and not follow law."

But, he said, "it has been so established and settled for quite a long time and it deserves respect and I would respect it and follow it."

Father of fallen soldier in the crowd

Among those watching the proceedings closely is Khizr Khan, the father of an American Muslim soldier who died in the Iraq War. 

During the presidential election, Mr Khan was a prominent opponent of Mr Trump. He told the BBC's Aleem Maqbool in November he wanted the president-elect to condemn "un-American hate".

Khizr Khan, father of fallen US Army Capt Humayun S M Khan, watches on Capitol Hill in Washington
AP
Khizr Khan watches the hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC

Sen Sessions: I would recuse myself from any Clinton case

Hillary Clinton
Getty Images

Asked about his former statements on Hillary Clinton's email scandal, Sen Sessions was asked if he could approach the Clinton "situation" impartially.

Sen Sessions said: "I do believe that that could place my objectivity in question.

"I believe the proper thing to do would be for me recuse myself" from any investigation involving Hillary Clinton, he replied.

Mrs Clinton has been cleared twice by the FBI over her use of a private email server while secretary of state.

Questioning begins

"Will you be able to say 'No' to the president?" Sen Sessions is asked.

He replies affirmatively.

When asked further what would be his options if the president persists, the senator says that he would resign rather than do something which is "plainly unlawful".

Sessions finishes opening statement

Sen Sessions has now finished his opening statement, and is being questioned by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

'I am ready for this job. We will do it right.'

In the last part of his opening statement, Sen Sessions directly laid out a commitment to justice for minority groups.

"I deeply understand the history of civil rights and the horrendous impact that relentless and systemic discrimination and the denial of voting rights has had on our African-American brothers and sisters. I have witnessed it. 

"I understand the demands for justice and fairness made by the LGBT community. 

"I will ensure that the statutes protecting their rights and their safety are fully enforced.

"I understand the lifelong scars born by women who are victims of assault and abuse."  

In closing, he declared: "I am ready for this job. We will do it right."

'I abhor the clan and what it represents' - Sessions

In a departure from his published transcript, Sen Sessions has directly addressed some of the controversy surrounding him.

"I was accused in 1986 of failing to protect the voting rights of African Americans," he told the hearing, something he said was "demonstrably untrue".

He said his office had investigated the Perry County electoral situation at the request of African-American elected officials, and tried to protect their voting rights, rather than infringe on them.

He also directly addressed those - such as the earlier protesters - who tried to link him to the KKK.

"I abhor the clan and what it represents, and its hateful ideology," he said.

'This is a wake-up call'

Sen Sessions says that America's law enforcement officers feel that the political leadership has abandoned them in recent years. 

They have been unfairly maligned and blamed, he says, for the unacceptable actions of a few bad actors. 

He stresses that "morale has suffered" as a result, saying that the number of police officers killed in the line of duty increased 10% in 2015; and firearms deaths were up 68%. 

"This is a wake-up call," Sen Sessions says. 

Police officer in Dallas
AP
A police officer takes a moment after a shooting in downtown Dallas

Sen Sessions: 'Scourge of radical Islamic terrorism' a priority

"If I am confirmed, protecting the American people from the scourge of radical Islamic terrorism will continue to be a top priority of the Department of Justice," Sen Sessions said.

Trump's press secretary: Democrats must denounce protesters

On Twitter, Donald Trump's incoming press secretary has critcised the vocal protesters.

Referencing a tweet from one of his colleagues, who labelled such action as "why democrats lost", Sean Spicer said Democrats should "denounced these tactics from their side ASAP".

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'Seven people removed'

Buzzfeed's Zoe Tillman, who is in the room, counts seven people removed since the hearing began.

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America in 'the throes of a heroin epidemic'

Sen Sessions vows to prosecute those who repeatedly violate US borders "vigorously" and "immediately". 

And addressing the issue of illegal drugs, he says that America is "the throes of a heroin epidemic, tripling between 2010 and 2014. 

"We must not lose perspective when discussing these statistics," he stresses.

Sen Sessions: 'I love the Department of Justice'

Sen Sessions pledges to be "worthy of this office".

"I'm a man of my word. I'm committed to the rule of law," he says, adding: "I love the Department of Justice."

Video of protester being removed

Cameron Joseph from the New York Daily News shares more video of the protesters at the hearing:

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Attorney general 'must set the example'

Following those interruptions, Sen Sessions has returned to his prepared statement - which is available online.

"He or she must be willing to tell the president 'no' if he overreaches. He or she cannot be a mere rubber stamp. He or she also must set the example for the employees in the department [of justice] to do the right thing," he said.

"The message must be clear: Everyone is expected to do their duty."  

Protesters: 'No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA'

Yet another protester interrupts proceedings, chanting "No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA".

He interrupted Sen Sessions' opening remarks briefly, and was removed - but almost instantly the chant was taken up again.

That protester was also removed.

Sessions 'humbled' by support

Sen Sessions has now been sworn in to give testimony. 

He begins by greeting everyone, and talking about his family.

He also says he is "humbled" to receive support from all America's law-enforcement agencies.

A Washington Post reporter tweeted from the chamber:

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Relaxed and smiling

Sen Jeff Sessions (centre) waves to a girl in the hall
Other
Sen Jeff Sessions (centre) waves to a girl in the hall

Meanwhile, Sen Sessions looked relaxed, sitting next to his wife as the statements were delivered.

He was seen smiling and waving to a girl in the hall.

He's now taking the stage himself.

A 'genuine, fair-minded person'

After Sen Feinstein, a Republican senator, Susan Collins, lauded Mr Sessions's record, calling him "a dedicated public servant".

She said he is the same "genuine, fair-minded person" in private that he is in public.

'Do not vote for Jim Sessions' protester yells

Another protester is pulled from the room, causing a brief interruption to proceedings.

"Do not vote for Jim Sessions", she yelled. The senator's name is Jeff Sessions.

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Will Sen Sessions be independent of Trump?

Sen Feinstein concludes by asking: "Will he (Sen Sessions) be independent of the White House? Will he say 'No' to the president?"

She stresses that there is "deep concern and anxiety" among Americans about what the Trump administration will bring.