The New York Times: Specter of Race Shadows Jeff Sessions, Potential Trump Nominee for Cabinet


In 1981, a Justice Department prosecutor from Washington stopped by to see Jeff Sessions, the United States attorney in Mobile, Ala., at the time. The prosecutor, J. Gerald Hebert, said he had heard a shocking story: A federal judge had called a prominent white lawyer “a disgrace to his race” for representing black clients.

“Well,” Mr. Sessions replied, according to Mr. Hebert, “maybe he is.”

In testimony before Congress in 1986, Mr. Hebert and others painted an unflattering portrait of Mr. Sessions, who would go on to become a senator from Alabama and now, according to numerous sources close to President-elect Donald J. Trump’s transition team, is a potential nominee for attorney general or secretary of defense. Mr. Hebert testified that Mr. Sessions had referred to the American Civil Liberties Union and the N.A.A.C.P. as “un-American” for “trying to force civil rights down the throats of people.”

Mr. Sessions also did not dispute Mr. Hebert’s recollection of their conversation about the white lawyer. He said he remembered the conversation, but not precisely what he said. “I guess I will not disagree with him,” Mr. Sessions testified, “and I do not know why — I cannot imagine why I would make that comment.”

An African-American prosecutor, Thomas H. Figures, testified that Mr. Sessions referred to him as “boy.” Once, after an argument with a secretary, “Mr. Sessions admonished me to ‘be careful what you say to white folks,’” Mr. Figures testified. Mr. Sessions denied saying that and was adamant that he had never called Mr. Figures “boy.”

Mr. Sessions had his supporters, including an Alabama judge, Ferrill D. McRae. “I have watched this young man since he started practicing law in Mobile,” Judge McRae wrote. “He is honest, hard-working, fair and compassionate for all his fellow man.”

In a phone interview on Wednesday, Mr. Hebert said it was a “frightening thought” that Mr. Sessions might lead the Justice Department. As for the Pentagon, he said, “His racial insensitivity might not be as manifest in such a position, but I wouldn’t feel good about it if I were a black soldier.”

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