Trump Taps Sen. Jeff Sessions for Attorney General, Rep. Mike Pompeo for CIA Director

Sessions opposes any path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and has been accused of racism.

Donald Trump sits with U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) at Trump Tower in Manhattan, New York, U.S., October 7, 2016.
Mike Segar, Reuters

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump picked three conservative loyalists with hard-line views on immigration and counter-terrorism to lead his national security and law enforcement teams, including U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions for attorney general and Representative Mike Pompeo as CIA director. 

Retired Lieutenant General Mike Flynn, who has been a stalwart in supporting Trump's promises to take a tougher approach to militant Islamist groups, was picked as his national security adviser. 

The three choices, announced in a statement on Friday by Trump's transition team, come as the Republican president-elect works to fill key positions in his administration, which will take over from Democratic President Barack Obama on Jan. 20. All three men said they have accepted Trump's offer. 

In choosing Sessions as head of the Justice Department and the country's chief law enforcement officer, Trump rewarded a loyalist whose tough and sometimes inflammatory statements on immigration have been similar to his own. 

One of the earliest Republican lawmakers to support Trump's White House candidacy, Sessions opposes any path to citizenship for illegal immigrants and was an enthusiastic backer of Trump's campaign promise to build a wall on the border with Mexico. He has also argued for curbs on legal immigration on the grounds that it drives down wages for U.S. workers. 

A former Alabama attorney general and U.S. attorney, Sessions, 69, could face a tough confirmation battle in the Senate, despite his 19-year tenure there. 

In 1986, Sessions became only the second nominee in 50 years to be denied confirmation as a federal judge after allegations that he had made racist remarks. Those included testimony that he had called an African-American prosecutor "boy," an allegation Sessions denied, and that he said the Ku Klux Klan was fine “until I found out they smoked pot.”

Sessions said he was not a racist, but said at his hearing that groups such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the American Civil Liberties Union could be considered "un-American." 

However, he could be helped as his status as one of Trump's most enthusiastic backers on Capitol Hill. Trump has hired several of Sessions' staffers, including policy chief Stephen Miller and Rick Dearborn, who has a top job managing the transition. 

"Jeff is greatly admired by legal scholars and virtually everyone who knows him," Trump said in a statement. 

Flynn, a retired U.S. Army three-star general and one of Trump's closest advisers, was fired from the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014, a move he has attributed to his outspoken views about combating Islamist militancy. Other officials who worked with Flynn cited his lack of management skills and leadership style as reasons for his firing. 

An Army intelligence veteran of three decades, Flynn was assistant director of national intelligence under Obama. 

Pompeo, 52, a third-term Republican congressman from Kansas, was a surprise pick to lead the Central Intelligence Agency. 

He was a member of a congressional committee that investigated a 2012 attack on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans. Pompeo argued that the Obama administration was more concerned with protecting the reputation of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton than with finding out what happened. 

Pompeo, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, is a former U.S. Army officer who founded an aerospace company in Wichita, Kansas. During his first run for Congress in 2010, opponents charged him with outsourcing American jobs because his company opened a factory in Mexico. Pompeo said the move helped his business to add jobs in the United States. 

Like Sessions, Pompeo will need to be confirmed in the job by a majority vote in the Senate. Republicans will hold at least a 51-seat majority when the chamber convenes in January.