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Sessions Explains that Racially Charged Remarks Were Taken “Out of Context,” Declines to Provide the Context

By Matthew Yglesias on May 6, 2009 at 4:42 pm

"Sessions Explains that Racially Charged Remarks Were Taken “Out of Context,” Declines to Provide the Context"

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Complaining that an apparently damning quotation was taken “out of context” strikes me as a not-very-convincing defense unless you can explain the context in some sort of exculpatory way. Take, for example, Jeff Sessions’ response to complaints that he’s a racist (via Mike Tomasky):

During the 1986 confirmation process, Sessions was accused of unfairly targeting black civil rights workers for election fraud charges as a federal prosecutor. A black lawyer under Sessions in the U.S. attorney’s office accused him of saying he thought the Ku Klux Klan was “OK” until he found out some of its members were “pot smokers.”

Sessions said the statement was meant as a joke and unfairly taken out of context.

But the confirmation process also revealed that Sessions had once called the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the American Civil Liberties Union “un-American” and “communist-inspired.”

Sessions, who spoke with Obama on Tuesday about the Supreme Court vacancy, told POLITICO that those comments were made in a private conversation he had with an African-American on his staff in the U.S. attorney’s office — and that they were taken out of context.

On the first issue, I dunno. The black lawyer in Sessions’ office doesn’t seem to have thought Sessions was joking. And on the second what was the context. Okay, Sessions called the NAACP un-American in private. But why is it a better thing to say in private to a black subordinate? What is the “context” in which that’s a reasonable remark? Maybe Sessions has an answer, but if he does he’s keeping it pretty closely held.

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