WASHINGTON — Sen. Jeff Sessions cast himself as a strong protector of law and order at his confirmation hearing Tuesday, promising that as attorney general he would crack down on illegal immigration, gun violence and the “scourge of radical Islamic terrorism.”

Sessions, echoing rhetoric used on the campaign trail by President-elect Donald Trump, warned of a country struggling to combat illegal drugs flooding across the border, spikes in violent crime in American cities and low morale among police.

“These trends cannot continue. It is a fundamental civil right to be safe in your home and your community,” the Alabama Republican said in laying out conservative priorities for the Justice Department at the opening of his Senate hearing.

In response to questions from members of the Senate Judicial Committee Tuesday, Sessions also:

• Said he “has no reason to doubt” the conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies that connected Russian President Vladimir Putin directly to the hacking of Democratic accounts during the election campaign.

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar asked Sessions whether he would question the accuracy of the intelligence agencies’ conclusion that Russia hacked into the emails of Democratic officials and paid “trolls” to make nasty comments on social media services.

“I have no reason to doubt that and no evidence of anything otherwise,” Sessions said at his confirmation hearing Tuesday.

Trump himself has been less definitive in response to the intelligence report, though his incoming chief of staff, Reince Priebus, said Sunday that Trump indeed has accepted that Russia was responsible for the hacking.

• Expressed his support for keeping open the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.

He said he believes it’s a safe place to house suspected terrorists captured overseas and should continue to be used.

That perspective differs from the viewpoint of the Obama administration, which has transferred prisoners to other countries in hopes of ultimately closing it.

• Said he does not support a ban on Muslims entering the United States.

Trump proposed a temporary ban on Muslim immigrants during the Republican primary campaign, drawing sharp criticism from both parties. During the general election, he shifted his rhetoric to focus on temporarily halting immigration from an unspecified list of countries with ties to terrorism. Trump did not disavow the Muslim ban, which is still prominently displayed on his campaign website.

Sessions, Trump’s pick for attorney general, reiterated Trump’s position of stronger vetting of potential terrorists at his confirmation hearing Tuesday, but he denounced a Muslim ban.

• Strongly denied allegations of racial animosity that derailed his federal judicial nomination 30 years ago.

He called the accusations “false” and part of an unfair caricature.

In 1986, he was accused of having called a black attorney “boy” and having made derogatory references to the NAACP and ACLU.

Sessions said he hopes that this week’s hearing on his attorney general nomination will show “that I conducted myself honorably and properly at the time.”

He said he’s the same person he was, but perhaps a little wiser.

• Promised  to recuse himself from any investigation into Democrat Hillary Clinton, because of comments he’d made during the campaign. Trump said previously that he would name a special prosecutor to look into Clinton’s use of a private email server, but has since backed away. The FBI and Justice Department declined to bring charges last year.

Sessions has solid support from the Senate’s Republican majority, including Maine Sen. Susan Collins, who along with Alabama’s other senator, Richard Shelby, formally introduced Sessions before the hearing began Tuesday morning.

In prepared remarks Collins defended Sessions against charges of racism, describing him as “a trusted colleague and personally a good friend … a person of integrity, a principled leader and a dedicated public servant.”

But Sessions faces the challenge of persuading skeptical Democrats that he’ll be fair and committed to civil rights as the country’s top law enforcement official. Sen. Dianne Feinstein hinted at those concerns, saying “there is so much fear in this country” particularly among blacks.

Sessions, whose 1986 judicial nomination was derailed by allegations of racially charged comments, sought to confront that concern by saying he “understands 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.”

“The office of the attorney general of the United States is not a political position, and anyone who holds it must have total fidelity to the laws and the Constitution of the United States,” he said.

At several points, anti-Sessions protesters disrupted the hearing. They were quickly escorted out.

Sessions smiled amiably as he began his presentation, taking time to introduce his grandchildren, joking about Alabama football and making self-deprecating remarks about his strong Southern accent.

In a more serious vein, he was asked by committee Chairman Chuck Grassley if he could stand up to Trump if he disagreed with the president-elect’s actions. Yes, he said, adding that he would be prepared to resign if asked to do something that was “plainly unlawful.”

Republicans are expected to secure more than enough votes needed to confirm him, including from some Democrats in conservative-leaning states.

Sessions has drawn opposition from at least two Democratic colleagues, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown.

In a dramatic turn, Booker – one of three black senators – said he will testify against Sessions on Wednesday, in what his office called an unprecedented instance in which a senator has testified against a colleague seeking a Cabinet post. In a statement, Booker accused Sessions of having a “concerning” record on civil rights and criminal justice reform and called his decision “a call to conscience.”




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