A dark money group that spent $21 million supporting Donald Trump in the presidential election is now running a television ad portraying Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s nominee to be attorney general, as “a civil rights champion.” Sessions has been a lifelong opponent of civil rights. He was rejected for a federal judgeship in 1986 because of a record of insensitive racial remarks and a case in which he had targeted civil rights workers registering African Americans to vote. Since then, as attorney general of Alabama and as a U.S. senator, has stood in the way of progress for women, people of color, immigrants and LGBT Americans, among others.
The ad, paid for by the 45Committee, goes so far as to linger on a photo of Sessions with Rep. John Lewis, the legendary civil rights crusader who testified against Sessions at his confirmation hearings earlier this month and who was recently attacked by Trump as being “all talk” and “no action.”
Todd Ricketts, a co-owner of the Chicago Cubs and the brother of Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, is the chief fundraiser behind the 45Committee. After feuding with Trump during the Republican presidential primary, Ricketts set up the organization to help former Never Trumpers support the candidate without making their support public, as Politico reported. Ricketts also raised funds for an affiliated super PAC called Future45, which spent $24 million supporting Trump and opposing Democratic candidates in the election.
In late November, Trump picked Ricketts as his nominee to be deputy commerce secretary.
The ad’s narrator calls Sessions “a civil rights champion who worked to desegregate Alabama schools and fight for equality” as the screen shows a picture of Sessions talking with Lewis and the headline of an article from the conservative Weekly Standard reading, “In Alabama, Jeff Sessions Desegregated Schools and Got the Death Penalty for KKK Murder.”
While Sessions and his supporters have been attempting to remake him as a civil rights champion as he tries to earn Senate confirmation, those who worked with him while he was a federal prosecutor in Alabama have said that he is exaggerating his role in civil rights cases, including the KKK prosecution and the desegregation cases mentioned in the Weekly Standard article.
The 45Committee ad also claims that Sessions has been a champion of “bipartisan criminal justice reform.” Although Sessions did cosponsor a bill reducing the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine, his record on criminal justice reform has been otherwise dismal.
Perhaps the most revealing line in the ad is that Sessions would “put public safety first” as attorney general. As Lewis pointed out in his testimony against Sessions, such “law and order” rhetoric has often run counter to the civil rights advances that Sessions is now claiming to back.
The ad ends with a link to a pro-Sessions website run by the Judicial Crisis Network, the group that led opposition to President Obama’s judicial nominees and is now playing a large role in coordinating conservative groups to support Sessions and push through a Trump Supreme Court nominee.
It is unclear how much 45Committee has put behind the Sessions ad and in which markets, although it has been on the air in Washington, D.C.