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Attorney General Jeff Sessions says that he is willing to recuse himself “whenever it’s appropriate” amid growing bipartisan calls for him to do so.
“I have said whenever it’s appropriate, I will recuse myself,” Sessions told an NBC News reporter early Thursday morning. “There’s no doubt about that.”
— Morning Joe (@Morning_Joe) March 2, 2017
During a tour of the U.S.S. Gerald Ford Thursday afternoon, President Trump expressed support for his embattled attorney general, saying he had “total” confidence in Sessions.
When asked by reporters if Sessions should recuse himself, Trump replied: “I don’t think so.”
The comments came on the heels of a report that Sessions met twice with Russia’s ambassador to the United States during the 2016 presidential campaign while he was chairman of the Senate Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee and an informal adviser to then-candidate Trump. During his confirmation hearings, Sessions did not disclose that he had contact with Russian officials.
Trump said that he believes Sessions “probably” testified truthfully about his contact with the Russian ambassador. The president said he was “not aware” Sessions had been in contact with the Russians before it was reported late Wednesday by the Washington Post.
The revelation sparked calls from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle for Sessions to recuse himself.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, was among the first Republicans to do so.
AG Sessions should clarify his testimony and recuse himself
— Jason Chaffetz (@jasoninthehouse) March 2, 2017
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., initially appeared to follow suit.
“I think [for] the trust of the American people, you recuse yourself,” McCarthy said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Thursday. “I don’t have all the information in front of me. I don’t want to prejudge, but I just think for any investigation going forward, you want to make sure everybody trusts the investigation. … I think it’d be easier.”
— Morning Joe (@Morning_Joe) March 2, 2017
But in a subsequent appearance on “Fox & Friends,” McCarthy appeared to walk back those comments.
“I am not calling on him to recuse himself,” he said. “I was asked on ‘Morning Joe’ if he needs to recuse himself going forward. As you just heard, Attorney General Sessions said that he would recuse himself going forward [as] appropriate, and that’s all my answer was. It’s amazing how people spin things so quickly.”
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, though, made his view on Sessions clear.
“Jeff Sessions is a former colleague and a friend,” Portman said. “But I think it would be best for him — and for the country — to recuse himself.”
At his weekly press briefing Thursday morning, House Speaker Paul Ryan said Sessions should recuse himself if he becomes the subject of a probe.
“I think he answered that question this morning,” Ryan said. “If he himself is the subject of an investigation, of course he would.”
“We meet with ambassadors all the time,” Ryan added. “It’s really common for members of Congress to meet with ambassadors.”
In his impromptu interview with the NBC reporter, Sessions said he never discussed the campaign in his meetings with the Russian ambassador.
“I have not met with any Russians at any time to discuss any political campaign,” he said. “Those remarks are unbelievable to me and are false. I don’t have anything else to say about that.”
During his confirmation hearing, Sessions was asked by Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., what he would do if there was “any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign.”
“Sen. Franken, I’m not aware of any of those activities,” Sessions said. “I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign, and I did not have communications with the Russians.”
Appearing on CNN Thursday, Franken said Sessions’ answer now appears “extremely misleading at the most charitable,” and a flat-out lie at the least.
“He made a false statement,” Franken said. “He needs to explain himself here.”
Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., suggested Sessions had perjured himself.
“Since it has now come to light that Attorney General Jeff Sessions lied under oath about meeting with Russian officials during the campaign,” Ellison said in a statement, “we must be entirely clear on one thing: Perjury is a felony and may be punishable by prison for up to five years.”
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., called on Sessions to resign, as did House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee.
And we need Attorney General Jeff Sessions – who should have never been confirmed in the first place – to resign. We need it now.
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) March 2, 2017
Nancy Pelosi: "After lying under oath to Congress about his own communications with the Russians, the Attorney General must resign."
— Byron Tau (@ByronTau) March 2, 2017
— House OversightDems (@OversightDems) March 2, 2017
At a press conference on Capitol Hill Thursday morning, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., also called for Sessions to resign.
“Last night when I read the revelations regarding Attorney General Sessions’ contact with the Russian ambassador and his decision to mislead Congress,” Schumer said, “I felt a knot in the pit of my stomach. I worry about the future of our country with foreign influence in our elections. It goes to the very wellspring of our democracy.
“For weeks I have said that Attorney General Sessions needs to recuse himself from any investigation into contacts between the president and his associates on the campaign and transition and Russia,” Schumer continued. “With these revelations, he could very well become a subject of it. It would be of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ quality if this administration were to sanction him to investigate himself. Recusal should have been given, but this goes beyond that.”
In a statement, the White House called the backlash against Sessions part of a Democrat-led smear campaign aimed at President Trump.
“This is the latest attack against the Trump administration by partisan Democrats,” the White House said. “[Attorney] 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. It’s no surprise Sen. Al Franken is pushing this story immediately following President Trump’s successful address to the nation.”
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