Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Thursday that he will recuse himself from any investigations involving the presidential campaign, a vow made following revelations that Sessions met twice last year with the Russian ambassador.
President Donald Trump told reporters on Thursday that he has “total” confidence in Jeff Sessions, though he wasn’t aware of Sessions’ contacts with the ambassador. Sessions did not mention the contacts during his confirmation hearing, an issue that arose amid questions about whether Russia sought to influence the election.
Thursday night, Trump asserted in a statement posted to Facebook that Sessions did not say anything wrong. “Jeff Sessions is an honest man. … He could have stated his response more accurately, but it was clearly not intentional.”
Sessions, who had served as an adviser to the Trump campaign, said at the Thursday press conference that there were no discussions related to the campaign during the two meetings with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. The first meeting came after a speech, and it was brief, Sessions said. During the second, the subject of terrorism and Ukraine came up, and the conversation grew “a little bit testy.” Sessions declined an invitation for a future lunch.
“Le me be clear,” Sessions said. “I never had meetings with Russian operatives or Russian intermediaries about the Trump campaign.”
Sessions said he believed his testimony during confirmation hearings “was honest and correct as I understood it at the time.” He had denied having communications with the Russians after a senator asked what he would do if he learned campaign officials had communicated with the Russian government. He will write to the Senate Judiciary Committee to explain his testimony.
Trump told reporters that Sessions probably testified truthfully.
Sessions said he will recuse himself from any existing and future investigation of any matters relating in any way to the presidential campaign. He reached the decision after conferring with senior officials at the Justice Department.
The New York Times noted that a senate hearing for the nomination of Rod J. Rosenstein for deputy attorney general is scheduled for Tuesday; if confirmed, Rosenstein would oversee any Justice Department investigation of the Russia issue. U.S. Attorney Dana Boente of the Eastern District of Virginia, is the acting deputy attorney general.
Justice Department officials previously said Sessions’ July and September contacts with Ambassador Kislyak were a result of his position on the Armed Services Committee and had no connection to his role as a campaign adviser. The Washington Post asked the 26 members of the Armed Services Committee from 2016 if they had met with Kislyak. Out of 20 who responded, none reported any contact.
Sessions spoke amid growing controversy over his contacts and his Senate testimony. Some Republicans said the revelations merited recusal, though Trump told reporters he didn’t see the need, the Washington Post reports.
Among those calling for recusal were House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Jason Chaffetz, the Washington Post reported. McCarthy later backtracked and said he wasn’t calling for recusal, the New York Times reports.
Others are going further and asking Sessions to resign. Among those making that call are House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. Another state attorney general, Hector Balderas of New Mexico is calling for appointment of an independent counsel to investigate ties between the Trump campaign and Russian officials. And the American Civil Liberties Union is calling for an investigation into whether Sessions perjured himself, according to a press release.