"(CNN)As the US attorney in Mobile, Alabama, Jeff Sessions was talking over a case one day in the 1980s with two fellow prosecutors.
It had to do with a young black man who had been kidnapped and brutally murdered by two members of the Ku Klux Klan. The Klansmen, Henry Hayes and Tiger Knowles, slit the victim's throat and hung his body from a tree. They carried out the attack in retribution for a jury acquitting a black man in the slaying of a white police officer. As Sessions learned that some members of the Klan had smoked marijuana on the evening of the slaying, he said aloud that he thought the KKK was: 'OK until I found out they smoked pot.' Sessions insists he was joking. But the damage was done…..
Another federal prosecutor, J. Gerald Hebert, testified that Sessions had called the ACLU and NAACP "un-American" and "communist-inspired." According to Hebert, Sessions said the two groups "forced civil rights down the throats of people."Hebert, a veteran civil rights prosecutor, told the committee he had "very mixed feelings" about testifying about the conversations that he said had taken place over a matter of years. He said he and Sessions would engage in "spirited debate" about civil rights and that he sometimes wondered if Sessions was baiting him with controversial statements. Sessions, he said, "has a tendency sometimes to just say something, and I believe these comments were along that vein."
"he New Republic writes
Sessions was U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama. The year before his nomination to federal court, he had unsuccessfully prosecuted three civil rights workers — including Albert Turner, a former aide to Martin Luther King Jr. — on a tenuous case of voter fraud. The three had been working in the “Black Belt” counties of Alabama, which, after years of voting white, had begun to swing toward black candidates as voter registration drives brought in more black voters. Sessions’s focus on these counties to the exclusion of others caused an uproar among civil rights leaders, especially after hours of interrogating black absentee voters produced only 14 allegedly tampered ballots out of more than 1.7 million cast in the state in the 1984 election. The activists, known as the Marion Three, were acquitted in four hours and became a cause célèbre. Civil rights groups charged that Sessions had been looking for voter fraud in the black community and overlooking the same violations among whites, at least partly to help reelect his friend Senator Denton.
On its own, the case might not have been enough to stain Sessions with the taint of racism, but there was more. Senate Democrats tracked down a career Justice Department employee named J. Gerald Hebert, who testified, albeit reluctantly, that in a conversation between the two men Sessions had labeled the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) “un-American” and “Communist-inspired.” Hebert said Sessions had claimed these groups “forced civil rights down the throats of people.” In his confirmation hearings, Sessions sealed his own fate by saying such groups could be construed as “un-American” when “they involve themselves in promoting un-American positions” in foreign policy. Hebert testified that the young lawyer tended to “pop off” on such topics regularly, noting that Sessions had called a white civil rights lawyer a “disgrace to his race” for litigating voting rights cases. Sessions acknowledged making many of the statements attributed to him but claimed that most of the time he had been joking, saying he was sometimes “loose with [his] tongue.” He further admitted to calling the Voting Rights Act of 1965 a “piece of intrusive legislation,” a phrase he stood behind even in his confirmation hearings.
It got worse. Another damaging witness — a black former assistant U.S. Attorney in Alabama named Thomas Figures — testified that, during a 1981 murder investigation involving the Ku Klux Klan, Sessions was heard by several colleagues commenting that he “used to think they [the Klan] were OK” until he found out some of them were “pot smokers.” Sessions claimed the comment was clearly said in jest. Figures didn’t see it that way. Sessions, he said, had called him “boy” and, after overhearing him chastise a secretary, warned him to “be careful what you say to white folks.” Figures echoed Hebert’s claims, saying he too had heard Sessions call various civil rights organizations, including the National Council of Churches and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, “un-American.” Sessions denied the accusations but again admitted to frequently joking in an off-color sort of way. In his defense, he said he was not a racist, pointing out that his children went to integrated schools and that he had shared a hotel room with a black attorney several times."