U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from any investigations involving Russian interference in last year's U.S. election, he told a press conference Thursday afternoon.
At the same time, Sessions, who was a senator on the Armed Services Committee and head of the Trump campaign's national security committee, denied that he discussed the election with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
"Let me be clear: I never had meetings with Russian operatives or Russian intermediaries about the Trump campaign, and the idea that I was part of a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries from the Russian government are totally false," he said.
Sessions has come under fire -- some Democrats have even suggested that he resign -- for telling the Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearing that he didn't contact with the Russians. It was revealed last night that Sessions met twice with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
Sessions said that the questioning from Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., referred to breaking news at the time that there may have been coordination between the Trump campaign and Russian officials. In that context, Sessions said Thursday, he was answering the question truthfully.
"My reply to the question from Sen. Franken was honest and correct as I understood it at the time," the attorney general said. Still, Sessions said he should have told the committee about his meetings with Kislyak.
Sessions said he met with Department of Justice officials earlier this week, who recommended that he recuse himself from such investigations. He said he made the decision to recuse himself from any probes involving Russia this afternoon.
"I believe those recommendations are right and just," he said. "The proper decision, I believe, has been reached."
Sessions to hold press conference addressing Russian envoy controversy:
The attorney general is scheduled to speak about his contact with the Russian ambassador during the Trump campaign at 3 p.m. CST. Watch his comments below:
Sessions victim of a 'witch hunt'
Strange, who replaced Sessions in the Senate, said the attacks against the attorney general are "ugly" and "entirely baseless."
"I have not been in Washington very long, but I did not think Democrats could stoop much lower than they did during Jeff Sessions' confirmation hearing. As we found out today, they can, and the hypocrisy of it is hard to stomach. For eight years, Democrats turned a blind eye to serious breaches of public trust, but they did not miss a beat in trying to undermine President Trump's administration as it gets to work cleaning up their mess," Strange said. "Today's attacks are ugly, and they are entirely baseless. Here are the facts: Jeff Sessions has a proven record as a national security watchdog who is tough on Russia. As every Democrat who is criticizing Jeff Sessions knows, meetings between Senators and foreign ambassadors happen nearly every day - they are part of the job, especially for a senior member of the Armed Services Committee."
He continued, "I have known Jeff Sessions for years, and I have never met a more honest person or someone more dedicated to doing the right thing. Both in Alabama and in Washington, he has held himself to the highest standard of ethics. I am confident that he will continue to uphold the integrity of his office and the trust of the American people."
Strange called on congressional Democrats "to stop this witch hunt and join Republicans in the business of doing what the American people sent us here for - fixing our economy, securing our border, and strengthening our national security."
Sessions only member of Armed Services Committee to meet Russian ambassador
There are 26 members of the committee, and Sessions was the only one to have a meeting with Sergey Kislyak last year, according to Washington Post reporter Adam Entous:
We reached all 26 members of the 2016 Armed Services Committee to see who met with Russian envoy Kislyak in 2016. Sessions was the only one.-- Adam Entous (@adamentous) March 2, 2017
Alabama GOP head supporting Sessions
Alabama Republican Party Chairwoman Terry Lathan tweeted her support for the attorney general and former Alabama senator:
I fully support General Jeff Sessions. This knee jerk reaction by Dems isn't going to stop. Facts matter- not campaigning, 1/3 #alpolitics-- Terry Lathan (@ChairmanLathan) March 2, 2017
Doing his duty as a US Senator. Dems should watch 'Jeopardy' more about how questions are formed. America wants this 2/3 #alpolitics-- Terry Lathan (@ChairmanLathan) March 2, 2017
Trump on Sessions
While saying he has "total confidence" in his attorney general, the president said he wasn't aware that Sessions had spoken to the Russian ambassador in 2016, the New York Times reported.
Asked if he thought Sessions told the truth when he said he had no contacts with the Russians, Trump replied, "I think he probably did." Asked if Sessions should recuse himself from any Russia investigations, Trump said, "I don't think so."
Pelosi: 100 House Democrats asking Sessions to resign
The Democratic leader put out a statement saying 100 House Democrats are urging Sessions to step down.
"The top law enforcement officer of the United States cannot be a person who lies under oath to the American people. Attorney General Sessions' impartiality was already suspect, now we know he does not have the integrity to lead the Department of Justice," Pelosi said. "Attorney General Sessions must resign immediately. Our security and our democracy have been undermined by Russia's meddling, and this Administration clearly cannot be trusted to investigate itself. There must be an independent, bipartisan, outside commission to investigate the full extent of the Trump political, personal and financial connections to the Russians."
Trump has "total confidence" in Sessions:
According to the AP:
BREAKING: Trump says he has "total" confidence in Jeff Sessions, amid calls for the attorney general to resign or recuse himself.-- The Associated Press (@AP) March 2, 2017
Richard Shelby stands by Sessions
Shelby didn't directly answer whether Sessions should recuse himself from investigations into Russian interference, but Alabama's senior senator vouched for his former colleague in a statement sent to AL.com.
"I have great confidence in Attorney General Sessions' integrity," Shelby said. "I do not believe that he has committed any wrongdoings, and I have no doubt that he will clear the air."
Sean Spicer: Democrats should be 'ashamed'
The White House spokesman said Sessions was "100 percent straight" with the Senate Judiciary Committee over his contacts with Russia.
"There's nothing to recuse himself" from, Spicer said.
Gary Palmer: Sessions didn't intentionally mislead Senate
"I have every confidence in Attorney General Sessions," the Alabama congressman said in a statement. "I do not believe he met with Russian ambassadors on campaign matters or that he intentionally misled the Senate. I continue to believe that he will enforce the laws of the United States, dispensing equal justice under the law and recuse on matters when he determines an appearance of impropriety exists."
Mike Rogers: Democrats have better things to do than scold Sessions
"Jeff Sessions is a man of the highest integrity, and his allegiance to the law and truth is undeniable," said Rogers, who represents eastern Alabama in the House. "Democrats should be spending their time heeding President Trump's call to put America first and joining Republicans in addressing the many problems facing our nation, like constructing the border wall, repealing Obamacare, and rebuilding our military."
Terri Sewell: Sessions should recuse himself 'at bare minimum'
Alabama's lone Democratic House member did not call on him to resign, but said if Sessions "knowingly perjured himself" then it "must be taken seriously."
"Our national security and the integrity of our elections depends on the success of our investigation into Russian election interference," Sewell said in a statement. "This investigation is too important to get it wrong. That is why I have supported legislation calling for a bipartisan, independent commission with the authority and scope to get to the bottom of Russian activity. If Attorney General Jeff Sessions knowingly perjured himself during his Senate confirmation, that is an issue that must be taken seriously. At a bare minimum, Attorney General Sessions must recuse himself from the investigation into Russian election interference, ties between Russian officials and the Trump campaign, and all related work by the Department of Justice."
Bradley Byrne: Sessions 'person of the highest level of integrity'
Byrne, a Republican who represents the Mobile area, came to Sessions' defense.
"Jeff Sessions is a person of the highest level of integrity," Byrne said in a statement to AL.com. "These attacks on him are off base and just further indicate the state of hysteria the Democratic Party is in these days. Sen. Sessions met with over 25 Ambassadors last year in connection with his duties as a U.S. Senator, and there is a clear difference between meetings related to official Congressional business and campaign related conversations. Instead of these petty attacks, I wish my colleagues on the other side would work with us in a constructive manner to address the serious issues facing our country."
Paul Ryan: Sessions should recuse himself, with caveat
The House speaker said Sessions should recuse himself from investigations into Russian interference in the election if he is the subject of a probe.
Ryan disagreed with Democratic calls for Sessions to resign, and said that investigations have not turned up evidence that Americans colluded with Russia to influence the election.
The speaker also downplayed the significance of Sessions meeting with the Russian ambassador.
"We meet with ambassadors all the time," he said.
Ryan blamed Democrats for fueling the flames of the possibility Trump
"Democrats are lighting their hair on fire to get [the media] to cover this story," he told a news conference.
Still, Ryan said there are ongoing investigations, and that the House Intelligence Committee is going to continue Russia probes.
Aderholt defends Sessions
The dean of Alabama's Republican House delegation gave a full-throated defense of Sessions.
"The unsubstantiated allegations about Russian coordination are becoming almost like the 'birther' issue of the Democratic party," Aderholt, R-Haleyville, said in a statement to AL.com." It is not at all unusual for members of Congress to speak with ambassadors from other countries on an almost weekly basis. The fact of the matter is that Jeff Sessions is an American patriot who would not do anything to jeopardize the sanctity and security of the country he not only has served for decades, but a country he deeply loves. "
Aderholt said the claims against Sessions "are nothing more than a partisan smoke screen to detract from the fact Donald Trump won the election fair and square. It is like some of the Democrats counted their chickens before they were hatched and now have egg on their faces."
Alabama Democratic Party: Sessions 'lied under oath,' should resign
McCaskill clarifies statement on not meeting with Russian ambassador:
The Democratic senator from Missouri, who earlier called on Sessions to resign, clarified an earlier tweet where she said she never had a meeting or call with the Russian ambassador as a member of the Armed Services committee.
4 years ago went to meeting of many Senators about international adoptions. Russian Amb also attended.-- Claire McCaskill (@clairecmc) March 2, 2017
Sessions, who was on the Armed Services Committee, said he met with the ambassador in his capacity as a senator and committee member. A meeting and a phone conversation between Sessions and Kislyak took place in 2016, including during the Republican National Convention. Sessions was also head of Trump's national security advisory committee at the time.
Former Bush ethics lawyer: Sessions misleading Senate 'a good way to go to jail'
Richard Painter, the chief ethics lawyer for the George W. Bush administration from 2005 to 2007, weighed in on the Sessions controversy on Twitter:
Misleading the Senate in sworn testimony about one own contacts with the Russians is a good way to go to jail https://t.co/qH0s6sTMJ9-- Richard W. Painter (@RWPUSA) March 2, 2017
Nancy Pelosi: Sessions 'lied under oath'
The House Minority leader just gave the strongest comments so far against Jeff Sessions, telling a news conference he "lied under oath to his colleagues in the Senate and to the American public about his communications with the Russians." She also called on the attorney general to resign.
"The fact that the attorney general ... lied under oath to the American people is grounds for him to resign. It proves that he is unqualified and unfit to serve in that position of trust."
Her Senate counterpart, Chuck Schumer, stopped short of saying Sessions lied.
"I am not a legal expert on perjury and I leave that to the experts," he said earlier.
Chuck Schumer: 'Sessions should resign'
Schumer, the Senate Minority Leader, said Sessions had weeks to correct the record about his contact with the Russian ambassador, but didn't.
"Because the Department of Justice should be above reproach ... Attorney General Sessions should resign," he told a press conference Thursday morning.
Schumer also called for a special prosecutor to lead the probe into potential coordination between the Russians and the Trump campaign.
"It would be of 'Alice and Wonderland' quality if this administration were to sanction [Sessions] to investigate himself," Schumer said.
The Democratic Senate leader said Sessions misled the Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearing when Sessions said he didn't have any contact with the Russians.
Schumer also said there should be an investigation into whether the probe into Russian interference in the election was compromised due to Sessions' contacts with the Russians.
He said the revelations last night of Sessions' speaking with the Russian ambassador during the Trump campaign "are extremely troubling and raise even more questions about the president and his associates' contacts with Russia."
Recuse or resign? Here's where members of Congress stand:
Buzzfeed News compiled this list so far of congressmembers who have called for Sessions to either recuse or resign. The five members calling on Sessions to resign from his post are all Democrats.
What do you think?
Patrick Leahy: Sessions 'did not give a truthful answer'
Leahy, a Democratic senator from Vermont and the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, stopped short of saying Sessions lied when he told the committee he had no contact with Russians.
In an appearance on CNN Thursday morning, Leahy pointed out that one of the occasions where Sessions spoke with Sergey Kislyak was during the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
"What did they talk about? 'Jeeze, the food is really great here?' Come on," Leahy said. Asked if Sessions lied to the Senate, Leahy said, "we'll let others make that determination." But he said the attorney general "did not give a truthful answer."
Leahy said Sessions should recuse himself from any investigations into potential coordination between the Russians and the Trump campaign.
"He has totally disqualified himself from being part of this investigation," the senator said. The American public "are not going to trust any investigation by him."
Facing calls to recuse himself from any Justice Department investigations into contact between Russian officials and the Trump campaign, U.S. Attorney Jeff Sessions declined to definitively say he would do so Thursday morning.
"I have said whenever it's appropriate, I will recuse myself. There's no doubt about that," Sessions told NBC News, adding, " have not met with any Russians at any time to discuss any political campaign, and those remarks are unbelievable to me and are false. And I don't have anything else to say about that."
Sessions is under scrutiny after it was revealed Wednesday night that he spoke with the Russian ambassador to the United States twice during Trump's campaign after saying at his confirmation hearing that he had no contact with the Russians. The Wall Street Journal reported that Sessions' talks with the Russian ambassador were or was investigated by federal officials as part of a larger probe on Russian meddling in the U.S. election.
Republicans, including House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California and House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz of Utah, called on Sessions to recuse himself from any Justice Department investigations into coordination between the Russians and the Trump campaign.
AG Sessions should clarify his testimony and recuse himself-- Jason Chaffetz (@jasoninthehouse) March 2, 2017
Some Democrats -- including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif, and Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill -- are even calling on Sessions to resign as attorney general, accusing him of lying to Congress when he said during his confirmation hearing that he didn't talk to the Russians.
Sessions denied any impropriety because he said he spoke with Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak as a senator on the Armed Services Committee and not as a surrogate for the Trump campaign. Before he was sworn in as Trump's attorney general, Sessions served as Alabama's junior senator.
"I did not have communications with the Russians," Sessions said at the time.
While Sessions said he spoke to Kislyak in his capacity as a senator, no other member of the Senate Armed Services Committee has so far said that they had met with the Russian ambassador.
McCaskill suggested on Twitter that it would be unusual for a senator on Armed Services to have such meetings:
I've been on the Armed Services Com for 10 years.No call or meeting w/Russian ambassador. Ever. Ambassadors call members of Foreign Rel Com.-- Claire McCaskill (@clairecmc) March 2, 2017
Source : http://www.al.com/news/montgomery/index.ssf/2017/03/jeff_sessions_wont_explicitly.html