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Sen. Jeff Sessions Vehemently Denies Racism Allegations

As expected, a confirmation hearing for Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions -- President-elect Donald Trump's pick for attorney general -- revolved around statements Sessions made three decades ago about the KKK.

Were those comments racist, or were they twisted to ruin the reputation of a good man? The answer largely depended on the political ideology of the senators questioning their colleague on Jan. 10, and the political leanings of audience members watching in the gallery.

The accusations against Sessions, a Republican, first surfaced when then-President Ronald Reagan nominated him for a federal judgeship in 1986. During a hearing in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the late U.S. Attorney Thomas Figures -- who was African American -- said Sessions had called him "boy" several times, and once warned him to "be careful what you say to white folks" after a testy exchange between Figures and a white secretary, according to CNN.

But perhaps most damning was a quote about the KKK. Sessions was one of three prosecutors handling a case against two KKK members accused of murdering a young black man in the 1980s. Sessions was speaking with his colleagues after learning that the defendants had smoked marijuana the night before the murder.

Sessions said he thought the KKK was "okay until I found out they smoked pot," says CNN.

Prosecutor Barry Kowalski testified that he thought Sessions was joking, but Figures said he didn't take it as a joke.

Whether Sessions really was joking or not, it cost him the federal judgeship, and has become a central issue in his 2017 confirmation hearing as he seeks to become the country's top law enforcement official.

South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham tried to toss a softball to his political ally, saying he knows what it's like to be smeared as "a racist or a bigot" for being a conservative from the south.

"How does that make you feel?" Graham asked. "This is your chance to say something to those people."

"Well, it does not feel good," Sessions began, with protesters cutting him off.

Sessions wore a tight smile for the next minute or two as security removed the protesters, who chanted, "Love trumps hate," and accused Sessions of racism.

When the protesters were cleared, Sessions spoke in his own defense.

"As a southerner who actually saw discrimination, and have no doubt it existed in a systematic and powerful and negative way unto the people ... I know that was wrong, and I know we need to do better, we can never go back," he said.

But Democrats weren't allowing Sessions to sidestep questions about his KKK comments so easily, reports ABC News. After Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, called Sessions "too extreme for Republicans" during his 1986 federal judgeship hearings, Sen. Dianne Feinstein cast doubt on Sessions as an appropriate choice.

“There is a deep fear about what a Trump administration will bring in many places," the California Democrat said, according to The Huffington Post, "and this is the context in which we must consider Sen. Sessions’ record."

Sources: ABC News, CNN (2), The Huffington Post / Photo credit: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

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