Attorney General Jeff Sessions News Conference Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced in a news conference he would recuse himself from any investigations involving President Trump’s campaign and potential connections to Russia. He did so in response to reports he failed to disclose at his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing his contacts with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. during the campaign.
By Glynn Wilson –
MOBILE, Ala. — Facing a massive roar of controversy in Washington, in the media and on social media, Attorney General Jeff Sessions refused to resign but announced Thursday that he would recuse himself from any current or future investigations of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election or contacts with other administration officials with Russia during the campaign.
News media organizations began reporting on Wednesay and Thursday that Sessions apparently lied to Congress during his Senate confirmation hearings about contacts with Russian officials on at least two occasions during the presidential campaign.
His conversations with Ambassador Sergey I. Kislyak occurred at the height of the time period when U.S. intelligence agencies say the Russians hacked and leaked Hillary Clinton’s emails in an attempt to influence the election in favor of Donald Trump.
Sessions indicated in a video statement that he made the decision to recuse himself after meeting with senior career Justice Department officials, saying he would not take part in any investigations “related in any way to the campaigns for president of the United States.”
Sessions, the former U.S. Senator from Mobile and a key adviser and surrogate for Trump’s campaign, claimed “I don’t recall” whether Donald Trump or the presidential election came up in the discussion with the ambassador, two months before the election.
Sessions’ statement came out shortly after President Trump expressed his support for Sessions and indicated he didn’t think Sessions should recuse himself.
While on a tour of the U.S.S. Gerald R. Ford in Newport News, Virgina, Trump said that he “wasn’t aware” that Mr. Sessions had spoken to the ambassador, but that he believed the attorney general had testified truthfully to the Senate during his confirmation hearing.
“I think he probably did,” the president told reporters.
Asked by reporters whether Sessions should recuse himself in the Russia investigations, the president said, “I don’t think so.”
Contacts with Russian officials have become a persistent distraction for the Trump administration. Trump’s national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, was forced to resign over his conflicting statements about conversations with Mr. Kislyak.
“Now Mr. Sessions was forced to use his first news conference as attorney general to address questions about his impartiality,” the New York Times said in its report.
Sessions announcement came when it became apparent Republicans in Congress were beginning to break ranks to join Democrats in demanding that Sessions recuse himself from overseeing an investigation into contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.
“The partisan furor that broke out with the Justice Department’s acknowledgment of the contacts late Wednesday began to take on a bipartisan sheen as the controversy spilled into Thursday morning,” the Times says.
Congressman Jason Chaffetz, the Utah Republican who leads the House Oversight Committee, said Thursday on Twitter: “AG Sessions should clarify his testimony and recuse himself.”
Senator Rob Portman, a Republican from Ohio, said in a statement: “Jeff Sessions is a former colleague and a friend, but I think it would be best for him and for the country to recuse himself from the D.O.J. Russia probe.”
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a Republican from California, said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that Mr. Sessions “needs to clarify” his testimony, and at first appeared to indicate that he thought Mr. Sessions should recuse himself from Russia-linked investigations.
“I think — the trust of the American people — you recuse yourself from these situations,” Mr. McCarthy said.
“For any investigation going forward, you want to make sure everybody trusts the investigation.”
Asked to clarify whether that required Mr. Sessions to step aside, he replied, “I think it’d be easier from that standpoint, yes.”
But Mr. McCarthy later backtracked on “Fox and Friends,” saying, “I’m not calling on him to recuse himself.”
Some Democrats were already going further, suggesting that Mr. Sessions had perjured himself in the confirmation hearing for the attorney general post and demanding that he step down by resigning.
“For the good of the country, Attorney General Jeff Sessions should resign,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York.
Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee sent a letter on Thursday to the Justice Department and the F.B.I. asking for “an immediate criminal investigation into these statements, which could potentially implicate a number of criminal laws including lying to Congress and perjury” as well as contempt.
The Trump administration dismissed the accusations as partisan attacks on Wednesday and Thursday, and Mr. Sessions said on Wednesday that he had not addressed election matters in informal meetings with the ambassador.
On Thursday afternoon at his news conference announcing his recusal, Sessions once again clamed said that what he told the Senate “was honest and correct as I understood it at the time” because he had understood himself to be discussing whether he had had any campaign-related contacts with Russian officials.
He also said he recognized that his critics believed he had made a false statement. Saying that was “not my intent,” he said he would write to the Judiciary Committee to explain his testimony for the record.
Sessions’s decision and Trump’s statements exposed rifts between the White House and the Justice Department on the entire investigation into Russian attempts to influence the U.S. election. While news reports make it obvous Russia tried, news in and of itself, so far there are no credible reports that prove the Russian meddling actually did anything to change the outcome of the election. That is not even the subject of the FBI investigation, and Wikileaks has vehemently denied the emails it released came from the Russians.
One anonymous source inside the Trump Justice Department, when asked by the Times why the White House had frequently asserted that no one from the Trump campaign had any contact with the Russian government during the campaign, clearly fearing the fallout if it could be proved, said “That’s the White House’s (question to) answer. I don’t know.”
Later in the day on Thursday, The Trump administration was forced to continue dealing with the controversy over Sessions’ false statements.
Trump tweeted that it was “a toal witch hunt.”
“Jeff Sessions is an honest man. He did not say anything wrong,” Trump said in a statement to reporters going around on Twitter. “He could have stated his response more accurately, but it was clearly not intentional.”
But clearly Sessions is not really denying contact with the Russians during the campaign. Watch the full video and what you will see is what we in the journalism business call a “non-denial, denial.”
© 2017, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.