Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for attorney general testified at a confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, the first confirmation hearing of Trump’s crop of cabinet nominees. And he took a grilling — not only from Democratic senators like Dianne Feinstein, but from protesters who interrupted the proceeding on numerous occasions. In one tense line of questioning, Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont, asked Sessions point-blank a question in reference to Trump’s remarks from an Access Hollywood video leaked in October about forcing himself on women.
“Is grabbing a woman by her genitals without consent … is that sexual assault?” Leahy asked Sessions. “Clearly, it would be,” Sessions responded. Leahy then went on to ask whether Sessions would investigate and prosecute Trump or any other high-ranking male federal official accused of an act like Trump is heard describing on the Access Hollywood tape. Sessions said, “The president is subject to certain lawful restrictions and they would be required to be applied by the appropriate law enforcement official … If appropriate, yes.”
“And the conduct described [on the Access Hollywood tape] would be described as sexual assault?” Leahy continued. “Well,” Sessions said, “the confusion about the question was a hypothetical question. And it related to what was said on the tape. I did not remember at the time whether this was suggested to be an unaccepted, unwanted …” At that point, Leahy began to interrupt, but Sessions finished the thought. “That would certainly meet the definition — if that’s what the tape said, then that would be …” Leahy again interjected and repeated his initial question, to which Sessions replied, “Yes.” Watch a clip of the entire exchange below.
"Is grabbing a woman by her genitals without consent, is that sexual assault?"
— Washington Examiner (@dcexaminer) January 10, 2017
Earlier in the session, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California began her questioning of the controversial senator with a query about sex trafficking, asking Sessions about a law passed by Congress last year that would provide comprehensive services to human trafficking victims, including abortions. Feinstein pressed Sessions on whether he would make sure that funds would not be denied to those service providers that assist in victims receiving abortions, but Sessions was initially evasive, saying he had “not thought the matter through.” Further pressed on the issue, Sessions eventually conceded that he would “follow the law” on the issue. Feinstein then probed Sessions on his views that the Supreme Court made the wrong decision in the Roe v. Wade case of 1973, blasting the judgment as “colossally erroneous.” In response, Sessions said he stood by his original assessment of the landmark case, adding, “I believe it violated the Constitution and really attempted to set policy and not follow the law.” But, he told Feinstein, “It is the law of the land … it deserves respect and I will respect it and follow it.”
Another Senator, Republican Orrin Hatch of Utah, questioned Sessions about his vote against the Violence Against Women Act in 2012, when it was up for renewal. He responded that he had supported an alternative bill by Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa that, according to Sessions, had “tougher penalties.” He added, “It is frustrating to get accused of opposing the Violence Against Women Act when I voted for it in the past.” At that point, Leahy was hardly satisfied with Sessions’ answer. “Let’s deal with the facts and what you actually voted for,” Leahy thundered. “I’m talking about the bill that is law today and that passed by an overwhelming margin. I’m asking about that. Why did you oppose it?” Sessions claimed he did so because of a “concerning provision” that gave tribal courts jurisdiction over non-tribal members. Watch the exchange between Feinstein and Sessions in the video below.