(WASHINGTON) — Attorney General Jeff Sessions was pressed Tuesday by black lawmakers on his agency’s relationship with African American communities — a heated exchange that included criticism of his hiring practices, a report on so-called ‘black extremists’ groups and his comments about Black Lives Matter.
During his testimony to the House Judiciary Committee, Sessions said he has yet to hire an African American to a senior level staff position at the Department of Justice.
“I do not have a senior staff member at this time that’s an African-American,” Sessions told the committee.
During the hearing, Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, told Sessions he doesn’t want the Justice Department to go backwards when it comes to upholding civil rights for minorities.
“For a lot of people who objectively look from the back like I do and many people where I live, the question is whether we are going towards inclusion and diversity or going back,” Richmond said.
Richmond also brought to Sessions’ attention that 91 percent of the administration’s judicial nominees were white men and there had only been one African American nominee for U.S. attorney.
In January, Richmond testified in opposition to Sessions’ during the former Alabama senator’s confirmation hearing for attorney general.
Sessions is no stranger to accusations of racial bias during his career a public official. Allegations of racially-charged comments cost Sessions a seat as a federal judge in 1986.
Sessions was also questioned about his knowledge on a 12-page FBI report about ‘black extremists’ groups that was written by the agency in August. The FBI says these ‘extremist’ groups are increasingly targeting law enforcement after police killings of African American men, including Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, according to the Associated Press.
The FBI report has raised eyebrows and sparked outrage among some African American lawmakers.
Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., a CBC vice chairwoman, pressed Sessions on the FBI report during Tuesday’s oversight hearing and expressed concerns over what she sees as unfair labeling of protesters.
“Do you believe there is a movement of African Americans that identify themselves as black identity extremists, and what does that movement do?” Bass asked.
Sessions said he hadn’t seen the report but added: “I’m aware that there are groups that do have an extraordinary commitment to their racial identity, and some have transformed themselves even into violent activists.”
Bass further questioned Sessions on whether there were similar reports on Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis.
Sessions said he wasn’t aware if the FBI attained similar intelligence assessments on these particular groups. He also wouldn’t say whether he classified Black Lives Matter as an “extremist group”.
In 2015, during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Sessions said he believes “community-based policing is a great thing,” but, “it is clear that police officers all over America are concerned” about legal actions taken by the Justice Department against police officers and police departments.
“I do think it’s a real problem when we have Black Lives Matter making statements that are really radical, that are absolutely false,” Sessions said at the time.
According to Sessions, officials within the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division failed to criticize statements made by Black Lives Matter such as “pigs in a blanket, fry em like bacon.”
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