(CNSNews.com) - Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said Tuesday he has been unfairly criticized for indicting three African-Americans for voting fraud in 1985 in Mobile, Ala., while he was U.S. attorney there, because the complainants in the case were also African-American - a fact that is often overlooked although “it’s been out there a long time.”
“It’s been out there for a long time,” said Sessions. “If you ask people that casually follow the news, they probably saw it otherwise, and these were good people who had tried-- they asked me to get involved in this case in 2002. A majority African-American grand jury with an African-American foreman asked the federal government to investigate the 1982 election.
“I declined. I hoped that that investigation would have stopped the problem, but two years later, the same thing was happening again,” he added.
Sessions said incumbent officials, who were also African-Americans, begged him to take action on the case. After approaching the Justice Department, an investigation was launched, which led to charges of voting fraud, Sessions said. The three defendants, known as the Marion Three, were charged with “taking absentee ballots from voters, opening them up, and changing their vote, and casting them for somebody they did not intend the vote to be cast for.”
The case involved three African-Americans in Marion, Ala., known as the Marion Three, who were helping poor and elderly voters cast their ballots.
“We had African-American incumbent officials pleading with us to take some action. We approached the Department of Justice in Washington, the Public Integrity Voting section,” he said.
“They approved an investigation, and it developed into a legitimate case involving charges of voting fraud - taking absentee ballots from voters, opening them up, and changing their vote, and casting them for somebody they did not intend the vote to be cast for. It was a voting rights case, and I just feel like we tried to conduct ourselves in the right way. I never got in the argument of race or other matters. I just tried to defend myself as best I could,” Sessions said.
Sessions also noted that the son of one defendant - Albert Turner, a longtime civil rights activist who advised Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. - recently wrote on behalf of the senator, saying that Sessions was justified in his prosecution.
“I would note, colleagues, in just in the last few days the son of Albert Turner has written a letter and said I was just doing my job, and he understood the reason and the justification for the prosecution and that I would be a good attorney general, so that was gratifying to me, and that’s the real truth to the matter,” Sessions said.
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said Senate colleagues could attest to Sessions’ character, but he and others that Sessions had worked closely with in the Senate and on the Judiciary Committee knew his heart and the Marion voting fraud case was an example of that.
“We know your heart. We know what kind of person you are. You’re a good and decent and honorable man. You’ve got an outstanding record that you should be proud of - and I know you are, and you should be,” Cornyn said.
“For example, when somebody says that you unfairly prosecuted some African-Americans for voter fraud in Alabama, it strikes me as incomplete - is the most charitable thing I can say - when they leave out the fact that the very complainants in that case were also African-Americans,” said Cornyn.
“In other words, the people you prosecuted were African-Americans, but the people whose voting rights you were trying to vindicate were African-Americans. Isn’t that correct?” Cornyn asked.
“That is correct,” said Sessions.
“Does that strike you as a fair characterization of your approach toward enforcing the law that people would leave that important factor out?” Cornyn asked.
“It’s not Senator Cornyn, and it’s been out there for a long time. If you ask people that casually follow the news, they probably saw it otherwise, and these were good people who had tried-- they asked me to get involved in this case in 2002,” said Sessions.