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Friday, June 16, 2017

The Bogus Charges of Sexism

I just read another of those articles lamenting the "sexism" displayed again California Democrat senator Kamala Harris as she questioned witnesses at the hearings before the Senate intelligence committee.  While questioning the deputy attorney general and then attorney general Jeff Sessions, Harris was directed by the chair to let the witness answer the questions she was asking.  Supposedly, according to various media sources, these directions were just manifestation of sexism and possibly racism towards Harris who is both female and mixed race.

I decided that to understand this issue, I would need to watch the events in question.  I've been a trial attorney for many years and know a great deal about questioning a witness.  I understand that a committee hearing is not the same thing as a trial; at hearings witnesses are given great latitude.  We've all heard witnesses before Congress who answer a different question than the one they are asked.  We've also all heard witnesses who said that they could not answer for this or that reason.  With all this in mind, I watched Harris question both Rod Rosenstein and Jeff Sessions.

Senator Harris questioned the witness in much the way one might try in court.  She asked a question and before the response was completed, she cut the witness off to ask another question.  In a court, the opposing counsel might object and ask the court to direct that the witness be able to finish his answer.  In the senate, their is no judge and no opposing counsel.  Instead, there is a custom of usually letting a witness finish his answer.  Senator Harris did not do this just once.  When she questioned the Attorney General, she cut him off at least six times in a row.  And to be clear, she cut Jeff Sessions off when he was answering the question in a completely straightforward and responsive way.  It seemed as if senator Harris just did not like the answer she was getting.

The direction to senator Harris came from the chair of the committee.  Senator Burr directed Harris to please give the witness the courtesy of allowing him to finish his answer.

I did not see all the questioning of these two witnesses, so I cannot state that no other senator cut the witness off to the same extent that Harris did.  I did see much of the testimony, and Harris was by far the worst offender when it came to interrupting the witnesses and preventing them from answering.  It seems to me that the direction given to her to stop interrupting and to let the witness answer was completely appropriate.

Simply put, this was not sexism or racism.  If anything, what we were seeing was a trial attorney who was questioning a witness as if she were in court rather than in the senate.  Harris is a freshman senator who probably hasn't gotten used to the different standard used in the Senate, so it is understandable why she was being so rude.  No matter what, however, this was not sexism or racism. 

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