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Son of civil rights activists prosecuted by Jeff Sessions makes a surprise endorsement

Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press None
Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) received a surprise endorsement Wednesday of his selection as the next attorney general — from the son of civil rights advocates prosecuted by Sessions three decades ago on voter fraud charges.

“I am not saying I am agreeing with all the positions Jeff Sessions has taken,” Albert Turner Jr. said in an interview. “But I think he is qualified to be attorney general. Based on his record there is some things we should look at, but I don’t think they are disqualifying.”

Turner’s endorsement comes as Democrats, civil rights advocates and liberal groups are mobilizing to fight Sessions’ pending nomination by President-elect Donald Trump.

His confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, scheduled to start Tuesday, is expected to be contentious and focus heavily on Sessions’ complicated legacy on race .

Sessions is certain to be grilled over his decision in 1985 as U.S. attorney in Mobile, Ala., to prosecute Evelyn and Albert Turner Sr., both well-known African American civil rights activists. Prosecutors working for Sessions alleged that the Turners and a third man, Spencer Hogue Jr., altered ballots in a primary election to boost the vote tally of a candidate they supported.

The Turners and Hogue denied the charges and said they had only helped illiterate voters mark their ballots. They were acquitted.

During his 1986 confirmation hearings to be a federal judge, Sessions was criticized for bringing the case. He was also accused by Justice Department colleagues of making racially insensitive comments. His nomination was rejected by the judiciary committee, only the second time in five decades that the panel denied a potential judge.

Turner Jr., a 51-year-old county commissioner in Alabama, said he believes federal prosecutors were misled by witnesses and a local district attorney who pushed the prosecution for political reasons.

"My differences in policy and ideology with him do not translate to personal malice," Turner,  a Democrat, wrote in a letter released by Trump's transition team. "He is not a racist."

He also said Sessions' prosecutors simply followed the evidence they were given.

“Jeff Sessions wasn’t on a witch hunt to seek out my father and my mother,” he said.

Turner, however, acknowledged that his 80-year-old mother, who faced more than 100 years in prison if convicted, does not support Sessions.

“She harbors some ill will," he conceded.

Turner Jr.'s endorsement came on the same day that three former Justice Department civil rights lawyers accused Sessions of exaggerating his work on four cases during his time as U.S. attorney in the 1980s.

“He worked against civil rights at every turn," the attorneys, who personally handled three of the cases, wrote in the Washington Post .

More than 1,000 law professors also urged the Republican-led judiciary committee this week to reject Sessions' bid because they believe he would “not fairly enforce our nation's laws and promote justice and equality"

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