Yet another member of President Donald Trump’s administration is in hot water over reports of alleged communication with Russian officials prior to the 2016 presidential election.
Congressional Republicans are calling for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from supervising the federal investigation into contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian government after the Justice Department revealed late Wednesday, March 1, that Sessions himself had communicated with Russian ambassador Sergey I. Kislyak on two separate occasions.
The discovery blew a massive hole in the testimony the Alabama senator gave during his confirmation hearing earlier this year, when he claimed he had no knowledge of anyone in the Trump campaign — including himself — communicating with Russia. The damning revelation is the latest bust in the fallout over what U.S. intelligence officials confirmed was Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election to help then president-elect Trump come out on top.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) appeared on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Thursday and advised Sessions to “clarify” his testimony, as well as recuse himself from all inquiries regarding Russia.
“I think — [for] the trust of the American people — you recuse yourself from these situations,” McCarthy said, adding that “for any investigation going forward, you want to make sure everybody trusts the investigation.”
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who heads the House Oversight Committee, echoed McCarty’s sentiments, tweeting, “AG Sessions should clarify his testimony and recuse himself.”
AG Sessions should clarify his testimony and recuse himself
— Jason Chaffetz (@jasoninthehouse) March 2, 2017
Sessions is now facing heat from both parties, with Democrats taking it a step further by demanding that he resign altogether. Key Democratic lawmakers like Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi argued that Sessions lied under oath by failing to disclose his contact with the Russian envoy during his confirmation hearing, asserting that he never should have been confirmed in the first place.
“Now, after lying under oath to Congress about his own communications with the Russians, the attorney general must resign,” Pelosi said in a statement. “Sessions is not fit to serve as the top law enforcement officer of our country and must resign. There must be an independent, bipartisan, outside commission to investigate the Trump political, personal and financial connections to the Russians.”
Other lawmakers who’ve called for Sessions to either recuse himself or resign include Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Ind.) and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), among others, according to Buzzfeed News.
The Republican senator, who was once deemed too racist to serve as a federal judge, has vehemently denied meeting with Russian officials during the course of the presidential election to discuss Trump and his campaign.
“I have not met with any Russians at any time to discuss any political campaign and those remarks are unbelievable to me and are false,” Sessions told NBC News. “And I don’t have anything else to say about that.”
When asked whether he’d step aside from investigating the alleged communications between the Trump campaign and Russian officials, the recently appointed attorney general said, “I will recuse myself” if necessary.
A spokeswoman for Sessions confirmed with NBC News Wednesday that the senator had in fact met with Kislyak last year. That meeting was first reported by The Washington Post.
This is the complete opposite of what Sessions told Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) at his confirmation hearing in February when asked whether he or anyone with ties to the Trump campaign had been in contact with the Russian government.
“[I] was not aware of any of those activities,” he replied at the time. “I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians and I’m unable to comment on it.”
It’s unclear whether Sessions will buckle amid pressure from both sides of the aisle, but he’ll soon be forced to make a decision on whether he’ll step down or recuse himself. He wouldn’t be the first to resign amid a political firestorm over communications with Russia, however. Just last month, national security adviser Michael T. Flynn resigned after he “misled Congress” about conversations he had with Kislyak last year.
Despite Sessions’ concerning misstep, the White House has since defended his meeting with the Russian official.
“General Sessions met with the ambassador in an official capacity as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is entirely consistent with his testimony,” Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement. “It’s no surprise Senator Al Franken is pushing this story immediately following President Trump’s successful address to the nation.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions officially recused himself from further investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election on Thursday, March 2, The New York Times reported.
Sessions, who faced mounting pressure from both Democrats and Republicans to recuse himself from the inquiry, said he came to the decision after meeting with DOJ officials. He said he would not participate in investigations “related in any way to the campaigns for president of the United States.”