- REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday said he would recuse himself from investigations involving the Trump campaign amid a firestorm over his contacts with Russian officials during the 2016 election, but he stood firm on the answers he gave during his Senate confirmation hearing about his past communications.
Sessions released a statement and held a press conference in which he said he would recuse himself from any investigations “of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for President of the United States.”
The Wall Street Journal had reported Wednesday that the FBI had opened an inquiry into contacts that Sessions may have had with Russian officials in the spring and summer of last year, part of a wide-ranging counterintelligence investigation into possible contacts between President Trump’s associates and Russian operatives.
It is unclear whether Sessions’ contact is still being examined.
Sessions denied during his confirmation hearing that he had ever communicated with any Russian officials while he was a top Trump campaign surrogate.
During his press conference, Sessions emphasized that he didn’t meet with Russian operatives about the Trump campaign during the election.
“Let me be clear: I never had meeting with Russian operatives or Russian intermediaries about the Trump campaign,” he said. “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’ is totally false.”
During his Senate confirmation hearing, Sessions, in answering an unrelated question from Sen. Al Franken, said he did not have any communications with “the Russians.” Franken did not ask Sessions whether he specifically spoke with Russian operatives, but rather asked about Trump campaign contacts with Russians generally.
“If there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign, what will you do?” Franken asked.
“Sen. Franken, I’m not aware of any of those activities,” Sessions responded. “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.”
Sessions said during his press conference on Thursday that his response to Franken’s question was accurate.
“That is the question that Sen. Franken asked me at the hearing, and that’s what got my attention. As he noted, it was first just breaking news and it got my attention, and that is the question I responded to,” he said. “I did not respond to the two meetings, one very brief as a speech … where no such things were discussed. My reply to the question of Sen. Franken was honest and correct as I understood it at the time.”
The reports on Wednesday indicated that he met with Russia’s ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak, at least twice last year – once at an event timed to the Republican National Convention and again in September.
Sessions said during his press conference that he didn’t remember much of what was discussed during the meeting in his office with the Russian ambassador, but said they discussed terrorism and Ukraine.
“I don’t recall, but most of these ambassadors are pretty gossipy, and this was during the campaign sesson, but I don’t recall any specific political discussions,” Sessions said.
A number of Democratic politicians called for Sessions while others, including prominent Republicans, have called for him to recuse himself from any investigation involving Trump’s ties to Russia or the country’s influence in the 2016 presidential election.
Natasha Bertrand and Allan Smith contributed to this story.