In a tough Senate confirmation hearing, Jeff Sessions – Donald Trump’s pick to be the new attorney general – has denied sympathizing with the Ku Klux Klan.
The 69-year-old Alabama senator also pledged to recuse himself from any investigation into former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
A Democratic senator expressed “deep concern” about Jeff Sessions’ nomination.
However, Democrats do not have the power in the chamber to block his confirmation.
The attorney general, America’s top prosecutor, leads the DoJ and acts as the main adviser to the president on legal issues.
Beginning two days of hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Jeff Sessions testified that allegations he had once supported the KKK were “damnably false”.
“I abhor the Klan and what it represents and its hateful ideology,” he added.
Jeff Sessions also acknowledged “the horrendous impact that relentless and systemic discrimination and the denial of voting rights has had on our African-American brothers and sisters”.
Protesters repeatedly disrupted January 10 hearing, including a couple dressed in KKK white robes who chanted: “No Trump, No KKK, No Racist USA.”
“Stop this racist pig from getting into power,” shouted an African-American demonstrator as she was led out of the hearing by police.
Senator Dianne Feinstein voiced her concern over “fear in this country, particularly among the African-American community”.
She noted Jeff Sessions had voted against an amendment affirming that the United States would not bar people entering the US on the basis of their religion.
However, Jeff Sessions said he did not support the “idea that Muslims as a religious group should be denied admission to the United States. We have great Muslim citizens”.
Republican Senator Chuck Grassley described Jeff Sessions as a “man of honor and integrity”.
The nominee also promised to remove himself from any investigation into Hillary Clinton, as well as her family’s charitable foundation.
Jeff Sessions said his past criticism of her private emails and the Clinton Foundation “could place my objectivity in question”.
“We can never have a political dispute turn into a criminal dispute,” he told the committee.
When asked whether he ever chanted the anti-Clinton slogan “lock her up”, Jeff Sessions said: “No I did not… I don’t think.”
Donald Trump had pledged on the campaign trail to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Hillary Clinton, but he has since retracted that threat.