Sen. Jeff Sessions, Donald Trump’s pick to become the next attorney general, further clarified today his position on controversial comments the president-elect made about women, telling a Senate panel that grabbing women by the genitals without their consent would "clearly" be sexual assault.
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Several months ago, Sessions came under fire for saying that it would be a “stretch” to call such behavior sexual assault -- a position he clarified shortly afterwards.
During his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee today, Sessions, R-Alabama, went even further.
"Is grabbing a woman by her genitals without consent, is that sexual assault?" Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, asked the Republican nominee.
Sessions was unequivocal: "Clearly it would be ... Yes."
Leahy, who until recently was the top Democrat on the committee, then pushed Sessions on whether he would be able to prosecute and investigate "a sitting president or any other high federal official ... accused of what the president-elect described" on tape, assuming federal laws were implicated.
"The president is subject to certain lawful restrictions, and they would be required to be applied by the appropriate law enforcement official," Sessions replied.
Sessions said he could not recall exactly what Trump said on the tapes, including whether the talk included “unwanted” advances. But, Sessions said, "if that’s what the tape" indicated, then "certainly it would meet the definition” of sexual assault.
In October 2016, just a month before Election Day, the New York Times obtained and released video from a 2005 interview with Trump for “Access Hollywood.”
“You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful [women] — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything,” Trump could be heard telling TV personality Billy Bush. “Grab ’em by the p----. You can do anything.”
During a presidential debate days after the video surfaced, Trump described the recorded discussion as just “locker room talk.”
“I’m not proud of it. I apologize to my family. I apologized to the American people," he said. "Certainly, I am not proud of it. But this is locker room talk.”
Trump said he never actually did the things he described on the tapes, insisting he has “tremendous respect for women.”
Shortly after the debate, Sessions came under fire for appearing to suggest he did not believe Trump’s taped comments about women amounted to sexual assault.
“I don't characterize that as sexual assault. I think that's a stretch,” Sessions was quoted by The Weekly Standard as saying.
Two days later, Session issued a statement saying he was confused by the questions posed to him “in a chaotic post-debate environment,” and the subsequent “inaccurate article ... misrepresented my views.”
“Of course it is crystal clear that assault is unacceptable. I would never intentionally suggest otherwise," Sessions said in a statement.