BIRMINGHAM, AL – President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for attorney general, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions has a connection to the Greek Orthodox Church. Father Paul Costopoulos, Dean of Holy Trinity-Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Cathedral, spoke with The National Herald about Senator Sessions’ Greek connection.
“His son Sam is a member of our Greek Orthodox Community, Fr. Costopoulos told TNH. “He is married to the former Angela Stratas. They have four children. Their youngest is about to be baptized at our church.
“Sam embraced our Greek Orthodox Faith through the Sacrament of Chrismation several years ago. He and his family attend Church regularly. Senator Sessions and his wife, while visiting their son and his family in Birmingham, have attended church services on several occasions and the baptisms of the grandchildren at our cathedral. Senator Sessions was the guest speaker at our church a year ago on Veterans Day.” Fr. Costopoulos also noted that “Sam Sessions is a practicing attorney in Birmingham.”
The Greek-American/Orthodox connection is the second in the Trump inner circle, following Chief of Staff Designate Reince Priebus, whose mother, Roula, is from Lesbos. Priebus is also an Archon of the Church.
The Sessions’ devotion to the Church is welcome news for some who were troubled by the appointment of Sen. Sessions as attorney general when they looked into his past record. One concerned citizen who chose to remain nameless hoped the teachings of the Greek Orthodox faith would help the Trump Administration be more tolerant and welcoming of all faiths.
The Associated Press reported that Sessions may have trouble in the Senate confirmation hearings, which are likely to bring up racially charged allegations that ended his bid to become a federal judge. He became a symbol to many of black-voter intimidation under the Reagan Administration. Senator Sessions’ record on race, policing, and immigration would come under scrutiny in the hearings at a time when the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division has become more prominent under the Obama Administration. If confirmed, Sessions could define how federal prosecutors across the country wield their powers and make changes to the Justice Department’s priorities.
Lawmakers and advocates expressed concern that Sessions could sideline or undo the Obama Administration’s civil rights efforts, which have included investigations of police departments for unconstitutional practices and lawsuits meant to protect the rights of transgender individuals and black voters.
“Given some of his past statements and his staunch opposition to immigration reform, I am very concerned about what he would do with the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice and want to hear what he has to say,” incoming Democratic Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York said in a statement, the AP reported.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said he strongly supported Sessions, who he noted “has worked tirelessly to safeguard the public and to improve the lives of Americans from all walks of life.”
Sessions’ peers on the Senate Judiciary Committee will almost certainly question the Alabama senator’s past statements on race. The panel’s top Democrat, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, said, the AP reported, that the “American people deserve to learn about Sen. Sessions’ record.”
Leahy voted against Sessions for a district judgeship when he last came before the Judiciary Committee in 1986. During that hearing, Sessions was criticized for joking in the presence of a Civil Rights Division attorney that the Ku Klux Klan was “okay” until he learned they smoked marijuana. He was also said to have called a black assistant U.S. attorney “boy” and the NAACP “un-American” and “communist-inspired.”
Sessions, a former prosecutor, has said the racially charged allegations against him have been painful to him and an unfair stain on his reputation. He called the matter “heartbreaking” in a 2009 CNN interview and described the allegations as “false charges.”
In defending his record, Sessions is likely to point to his vote to confirm Eric Holder as the country’s first black attorney general and to his co-sponsorship of the Fair Sentencing Act, which sought to reduce racial disparities in how black and white drug offenders are treated.
When he was U.S. Attorney in Alabama, his office investigated the 1981 murder of Michael Donald, a black man who was kidnapped, beaten, and killed by two Klansmen who hanged his body in a tree. The two men were later arrested and convicted.
As the AP reported, “he couldn’t have been more supportive of making sure we got convicted the murderers of the last black man who was lynched by the Klan,” said former Justice Department attorney Barry Kowalski, who worked with Sessions.