There was a recurring accusation from Democrats during Tuesday's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing: President Trump is to blame for a rise in hate crimes.
"It's no accident that there is a rise in hate crimes because we're in an environment where the president targets Muslims with his language," said Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii during a hearing on hate crimes, referring to Trump's travel ban.
Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., also attempted to correlate having Steve Bannon in the White House as chief strategist to the rise in hate crimes.
"Either through missteps or associations with controversial figures, the White House fails to speak clearly in opposition to bias and hate. Far too often the White House sends mixed messages," Franken asked Eric Treene of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. "I'm curious what message you think it sends to individuals who may engage in that kind of reprehensible behavior when the president selects Steve Bannon as his chief strategist?"
Franken's Minnesota colleague, Sen. Amy Klobuchar asked a similar question to Treene.
"From you perspective at the Justice Department, what do you see as the cause of this increase in threats?" Klobuchar asked.
Treene circumvented the attempt by the Democratic senators to draw such a correlation, saying: "The attorney general has been consistent and strong in his message that hate crime is violent crime, and we need to do everything we can with all the tools in our prosecutorial tool box to fight this problem." He added that "one of the leading causes of anti-Muslim bias is not knowing any Muslims."
Vanita Gupta, former chief of the Civil Rights Division during the Obama administration, seemed to indirectly blame the Trump administration for a rise in hate crime incidents.
"Today's hearing comes at a crucial time, when too many people in this country feel unwelcome, unsafe, and marginalized. Divisive rhetoric during the recent presidential election, comments and policies targeting or casting wide aspersions on Muslim, immigrant, and other marginalized communities have heightened concerns that our country is increasingly legitimizing or normalizing hate," said Gupta.
She added: "Hate crimes have been referred to as this country's original form of domestic terrorism."
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., asked the witnesses to work with her in an attempt to draft legislation to make hate crime reporting mandatory. The witnesses responded in the affirmative, even as she simultaneously called out Trump and asked him to stop dividing the country with his rhetoric.
"The fish rots from the head," Feinstein said, referring to "the head of our government."
"And I think the head of our government has to be more understanding that you cannot divide people. We have to work to bring people together," she said.
Meanwhile, Treene told the Senators that Attorney General Jeff Sessions will continue to pursue and prosecute hate crimes. Critics of Sessions have said they worry he will be less aggressive in pursuing and prosecuting hate crimes, and focus more-so on leaving policing in the hands of state and local law enforcement.
"Is there any doubt in your mind, any doubt whatsoever, that in your opinion the attorney general of the United States intends to pursue hate crimes vigorously?" asked Louisiana Republican Sen. John Kennedy.
"He has consistently given us the encouragement to pursue these cases vigorously," Treene replied.
Treene also revealed that there will be a summit in late June on violence and hate crimes.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, there has been a 86 percent increase in anti-Semitic hate crime incidents in the first four months of 2017 from the same period last year, and a 67-percent rise in anti-Muslim hate crimes from 2014 to 2015. However, the numbers are uncertain because it is only voluntary for state and local governments to report hate crime incidents to the federal government.