WASHINGTON, D.C. (CBS/CNN) –– Attorney General Jeff Sessions held a press conference Thursday afternoon after senior Democrats called for his resignation, saying he will recuse himself from investigations of Russian involvement in President Donald Trump’s election.
“I never had meetings with Russian operatives or Russian intermediaries about the Trump campaign,” Sessions told reporters. “And the idea that I was part of a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government are totally false.”
Sessions says his staff said it was in his best interest to recuse himself from the investigation.
“I have decided to recuse myself from any existing or future investigations of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for President of the United States,” Sessions said. “This announcement should not be interpreted as confirmation of the existence of any investigation or suggestive of the scope of any such investigation,” he added.
Sessions made the decision after it emerged that he had failed at his Senate confirmation hearing to disclose two pre-election meetings with Moscow’s ambassador to Washington, at a time when Russia was accused of interfering in the presidential race.
Sessions did not mention the meetings with Sergey Kislyak during his confirmation hearings, when was asked if he knew of any contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.
Sessions campaigned on behalf of Donald Trump throughout 2016.
[graphiq id=”jOyr30dvdZj” title=”Jeff Sessions” width=”600″ height=”748″ url=”https://w.graphiq.com/w/jOyr30dvdZj” link_text=”Graphiq” ]
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren said Sessions should resign.
Pelosi said Sessions’ answers in his confirmation hearing amounted to “apparent perjury” and said he was “not fit to serve as the top law enforcement officer of our country.”
Warren said he should never have been confirmed in the first place, pointing out that he oversees the FBI, which is investigating allegations that Russia interfered in the US election campaign.
“Now Jeff Sessions is AG — the final say on the law enforcement investigation into ties between the Trump campaign & Russia? What a farce. This is not normal. This is not fake news. This is a very real & serious threat to the national security of the United States,” she tweeted.
“We need a special prosecutor totally independent of the AG. We need a real, bipartisan, transparent Congressional investigation into Russia,” she added.
Sessions: ‘This allegation is false’
A spokeswoman for Sessions said he didn’t mislead senators during his confirmation. Sessions also strongly denied ever discussing campaign-related issues with anyone from Russia.
“I never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign,” he said in a statement. “I have no idea what this allegation
is about. It is false.”
According to the Justice Department, Sessions met with Kislyak in July on the sidelines of the Republican convention, and in September in his office when Sessions was a member of the Senate Armed Services committee. Sessions, then the junior senator from Alabama, was an early Trump backer and regular surrogate for him as a candidate.
Kislyak is considered by US intelligence to be one of Russia’s top spies and spy-recruiters in Washington, according to current and former senior US government officials.
Kislyak’s interactions with Trump’s former national security adviser Mike Flynn led to Flynn being fired last month.
The House Intelligence Committee signed off this week on a plan to investigate Russia’s alleged interference in the US elections, which includes examining contacts between Trump’s campaign and Russia, and looking into who leaked the details. Democrats have called for an independent investigation.
Minnesota Sen. Al Franken, who asked Sessions about Russia at his confirmation hearing, said if the reports of Sessions’ contacts with Kislyak were true, then Sessions’ response was “at best misleading.”
“It’s clearer than ever now that the attorney general cannot, in good faith, oversee an investigation at the Department of Justice and the FBI of the Trump-Russia connection, and he must recuse himself immediately,” Franken said.
The ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff, also said that Sessions should recuse himself if he didn’t reveal his interactions with the Russian Ambassador last year during his confirmation hearing.
“If it’s true that Sessions failed to disclose his meeting with Kislyak, he must recuse himself. This is not even a close call; it is a must,” he posted on Twitter.
President Trump took to Twitter on Thursday night calling Sessions “an honest man.”
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