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Sessions faces the big question at his confirmation hearing: Is he a racist?

Hannah Allam, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, revived talk of the KKK trial in the last hour of the daylong hearing. Cruz lectured the news media for failing to cover how Sessions had gone after the Klansmen by supporting moves that ultimately bankrupted the group. Cruz congratulated Sessions for not pulling punches in his handling of the case.

An in-depth look into the case by The Atlantic, however, suggests that Sessions has inflated his role.

At the hearing, Sessions was similarly accused of embellishing his civil rights record. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., hammered Sessions about holes in claims that he'd "personally" handled desegregation and other civil rights cases; attorneys on the cases have said publicly that Sessions lied about or exaggerated his involvement.

Franken got Sessions to admit that his boast of handling "20 or 30" desegregation cases was wrong. Sessions acknowledged that the real number was far lower, explaining that he'd miscounted because some cases were quickly resolved or had begun before his tenure.

One quick moment of the hearing encapsulated the divide between Sessions and his critics from the civil rights community: He used the past tense to describe the systematic racial discrimination that his opponents say they're still fighting today. Sessions said he had "no doubt it existed in a systematic, powerful and negative way."

Sessions' opening statement was repeatedly interrupted by protesters chanting, "No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA!" A woman from Code Pink, an advocacy group known in Washington for disrupting congressional hearings, was led out by police officers as she shouted: "You're a pig! Stop this fascist pig from getting into power!" Within the first hour of Sessions' hearing, seven protesters had been led out of the hearing room by Capitol police, including the ones in KKK hoods.

At one point, Sessions was asked how being labeled a racist made him feel.

"It does not feel good," he replied.

Before he could continue, he was interrupted by another round of protests.

(Sean Cockerham contributed to this report.)

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