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Trump Taps Anti-Immigration Hard-Liner Sen. Jeff Sessions For Attorney General


President-elect Trump says that he'll nominate Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama as attorney general. Senator Sessions was an early supporter of Trump's campaign. He was attorney general of Alabama in the mid-1990s. He currently serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

So he is familiar with the process by which his colleagues will confirm him or not. We turn now to Alberto Gonzales, former attorney general under President George W. Bush. He's now the dean at the Belmont College School of Law in Nashville. Thanks very much for being with us.

ALBERTO GONZALES: It's good to be with you.

SIMON: 1986 - I don't have to tell you - Senator Sessions' nomination for federal judgeship was voted down by the Senate Judiciary Committee. There were allegations he'd called the NAACP and other civil-rights groups un-American, communist inspired. Is he a good choice to be attorney general?

GONZALES: Well, the Jeff Sessions that I know and dealt with when I was AG and then, before then, in the White House is someone that I could support. As to these allegations, you know, obviously, that's the responsibility of the Senate Judiciary Committee and of the entire Senate - to investigate that and to study that.

As I've said before, as a general matter with respect to executive-branch nominations, the president does deserve some deference. This is part of his team. This is not like a lifetime appointment for a federal judge. So I think some deference to the president's choice is appropriate here, although, clearly, the attorney general is a little bit different in that the AG wears two hats.

Not only is he attorney general, a member of the president's team, the attorney general is the chief law-enforcement officer of the country. And we should all be concerned that we have an attorney general that enforces the law equally - that no one, no matter their skin color, is concerned about the fact that they won't enjoy all of the protections under our laws.

SIMON: During the campaign, Donald Trump suggested that a judge who was presiding over a class-action suit against Trump University couldn't give him a fair hearing because that judge had happened to be born to Mexican immigrants. Are you confident that Donald Trump respects the independence and integrity of the U.S. judicial system?

GONZALES: Well, of course, that's all sort of moot now, isn't it? Those comments have been, (laughter) obviously, well-publicized. And despite the comments or in spite of the comments, he was elected president of the United States. And he will be president for the next four years. So the issue here is what - you know, whether or not Jeff Sessions is going to apply the law equally.

Will he use the Civil Rights Division to ensure that everyone's civil rights is, in fact, protected? And you can make the argument that he is very well-qualified to do the job by virtue of experience. Now the Senate will determine whether or not he has the right sort of focus, the right priorities in terms of the enforcement of laws across the country equally.

SIMON: General Gonzales, I got to tell you, anybody listening to this interview is going to notice you seem pretty tentative about all this.

GONZALES: What do you mean, tentative?

SIMON: You're not saying, I know Jeff Sessions. He's a great guy. He'll be a great attorney general.

GONZALES: Well, what I've said is I support the Jeff Sessions that I know. Obviously, there were some issues 30 years ago. And the Senate Judiciary Committee and the entire Senate will make an evaluation as to whether or not this disqualifies him from serving as attorney general. You know, the Jeff Sessions that I know is certainly qualified to be attorney general. And I would expect that he would be confirmed based on what I know and based upon my experience.

But it's up to the Senate Judiciary Committee and the entire Senate to make the final calculation based on an investigation that, quite frankly, I just haven't done. And I think that the American people need to wait and, before passing judgment, let the Senate do its job. That's what - that's the role of that institution.

SIMON: Alberto Gonzales, former attorney general of the United States and currently the dean at Belmont University College of Law, thanks so much for being with us.

GONZALES: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.