DHS chief Kirstjen Nielsen tried to plead ignorance of Trump's infamous immigration comments at a Senate hearing. It did not go well.

DHS chief Kirstjen Nielsen.
(Image credit: Screenshot/Twitter/ABC News)

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday and faced some tough questions about President Trump's recent disparaging remarks about Haiti, El Salvador, and African nations, which he reportedly called "shithole countries."

In his round of questioning, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) asked Nielsen what the president meant when he expressed a desire for the U.S. to take in more Norwegian immigrants. Nielsen replied that Trump was discussing immigration "from a merit-based perspective" and that he wanted immigrants "with skills who can assimilate and contribute to the United States, moving away from country quotas and to an individual merit system."

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A little later, Leahy asked Nielsen, "Norway is a predominantly white country, isn't it?" After stuttering, she replied, "I actually do not know that sir, but I imagine that is the case."

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Nielsen's interrogation, however, was far from over. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) — who was in the room with Nielsen when Trump reportedly made the comments during a meeting on immigration — wasted little time in asking, "How did [Trump] characterize those countries in Africa?" Nielsen claimed to not remember exactly what the president said because of "cross conversations" and "rough talk by a lot of people in the room."

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Durbin pressed on: "Do you remember the president saying expressly, 'I want more Europeans, why can't we have more immigrants from Norway?'" Nielsen said that she remembered Trump asking about "the concept of 'underrepresented countries'" but her memory failed her in regards to the president's alleged profanity. Durbin did get Nielsen to admit that Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) used "tough language" as he quoted the president, but Nielsen did not explicitly confirm the use of the word "shithole." She would only say, "I remember specific cuss words being used by a variety of members."

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