Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, President-elect Donald Trump’s controversial nominee for attorney general, has found a strong and unlikely ally in Maine’s senior U.S. senator.

Susan Collins and Alabama’s other senator, Richard Shelby, will formally introduce Sessions before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, where she will defend him against charges of racism, describing him as “a trusted colleague and personally a good friend … a person of integrity, a principled leader and a dedicated public servant,” according to her prepared remarks.

“We first came to know each other during dinners with other members of our Senate class, where we’ve discussed everything from our politics to our families,” Collins said in her remarks, which her office provided to the Press Herald. “I have never witnessed anything to suggest that Jeff Sessions is anyone other than a dedicated public servant and a decent man.”

Collins’ support for Sessions has surprised many people, as the two are politically at opposite ends of their party. Collins, who is often described as the most moderate Republican in the Senate, sometimes bucks her caucus and declined to vote for Trump, saying he lacked “the temperament, self-discipline and judgment required to be president.”

Sessions is anything but moderate, an opponent of gay marriage and hate crime protections for gay and transgender people; a critic of drug sentencing reform and cannabis legalization who has said “good people don’t smoke marijuana”; a critic of the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion; a defender of waterboarding and warrantless wiretapping; and a man who was denied a federal judgeship by a Republican-controlled Senate committee in the 1980s on account of allegations of having engaged in racially charged prosecutions and language use.

Collins was unavailable for an interview Monday, and her office did not answer questions about some of Sessions’ more controversial positions. In interviews with national media outlets she has emphasized the personal qualities of a senator she has served with since 1996.


“He’s a decent, honorable, patriotic individual,” she told CNN. “I feel bad that he was not getting a fair shake from those who were denigrating him.

“I don’t know what happened more than 30 years ago when Jeff was nominated to be a district court judge and his nomination failed,” she said. “But I do know the Jeff Sessions I have worked with in the past 20 years. And he is a good person and I believe that he will perform very well as attorney general.”

Lance Dutson, a former Collins campaign and Senate staffer, said her support of Sessions doesn’t surprise him and is likely based on an assessment of his personal integrity rather than his policy positions.

“The senator, probably one of her most important and impactful traits is that she has close colleagues on both sides of the aisle and both ends of the political spectrum,” Dutson said. “I think this has more to do with him being somebody she has a history of being able to work with despite her policy differences.”

Ted O’Meara, who worked with Collins in the 1980s when they were both staffers for Sen. Bill Cohen, said he trusts her judgment. “I don’t think it’s because they are both senators, because I’m sure there are other senators she would not do this for,” he said. “You have to assume that she is doing this because she knows the man and doesn’t believe he is a racist and is qualified to hold the office.”

But leading Maine advocates for civil rights, women, LGBTQ people and the legalization of marijuana expressed stern opposition to having Sessions lead federal law enforcement and their dismay that Collins is championing his nomination.


“This feels like a break from her own personal positions, and it’s surprising that she would endorse him prior to the examination of his record and positions,” said Eliza Townsend, executive director of the Maine Womens’ Lobby, which opposes the nomination. “I feel as a woman who is her constituent that she had valued her relationship with a colleague over her representation of the women of Maine.”

Diane Russell, the former Democratic state legislator who spearheaded the effort to legalize marijuana use in Maine, said that as attorney general, Sessions could choose to enforce countervailing federal laws against using pot.

“I’m so angry and horrified by this,” Russell said of Collins’ support. “She never sticks her nose out for anything. She sits on the fence until the last moment and talks out both sides of her mouth. So why would she pick the most racist, homophobic person to suddenly come out of her shell for?”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, whose parent organization Sessions once called “communist-inspired,” does not take formal positions on candidates, but the organization raises red flags over Sessions.

“The American people deserve a top law enforcement official who will protect the civil rights and liberties of all Americans equally,” Alison Beyea, the ACLU of Maine’s executive director, said by email. “Sessions’ record raises many questions about his commitment to protecting people of color, LGBTQ people, women and differently abled people.”

In the remarks prepared for Tuesday’s introduction, Collins defended Sessions against allegations dating to his unsuccessful federal court nomination that he was a racist, noting he had sponsored the first African-American member of the Lions Club in Mobile, Alabama, and, while serving as a U.S. attorney, had prosecuted Klansmen for the murder of a black teenager.

“These are not the actions of an individual who is motivated by racial animus,” she said in the remarks.


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