US attorney general Jeff Sessions recuses himself from Russia probe

US attorney general Jeff Sessions recuses himself from Russia probe

Donald Trump blasts ‘total witch hunt’ as US attorney general Jeff Sessions recuses himself from Russia probe

Watch | Jeff Sessions recuses himself from Russia probe

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Donald Trump has railed against a “total witch hunt” after his Attorney General stood aside from an investigation into Russian interference in the US election after it emerged he twice talked with Russia’s ambassador to Washington during the campaign.

The president said Mr Sessions could have been more accurate in what he said about his contacts with Russian officials but blamed Democrats for blowing up the controversy for political reasons.

“Jeff Sessions is an honest man. He did not say anything wrong. He could have stated his response more accurately, but it was clearly not intentional,” Mr Trump said in a statement.

“The Democrats are overplaying their hand,” Trump said in the statement. “It is a total witch hunt!”

Mr Sessions had been under intense pressure ever since details of the two meetings emerged, the latest administration figure to come under fire for contacts with Russia.

While his decision will defuse the immediate crisis, it still leaves a nagging sense of crisis at the heart of Mr Trump’s White House.

At a hastily arranged press conference, Mr Sessions insisted he had done nothing wrong and was acting in his capacity as a senator. But he was happy to follow the counsel of his ethics advisers at the department of justice who said he should step aside from the FBI’s investigation into hacking and ties between the Trump campaign and Moscow.

“I have now decided to recuse himself from any existing of future investigations of any matters related in any way to the campaign for the president of the United States,” he said.

Watch | Jeff Sessions: ‘I did not have communications with the Russians’

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The decision was welcomed by critics on his own side – such as Lindsay Graham who called it “the best decision for the country” – but Democratic leaders were not impressed.

Nancy Pelosi, who leads the party in the House of Representatives, described it as a “sorry attempt to explain away his perjury” and repeated her call for Mr Sessions to resign.

Ms Pelosi’s statement was echoed by Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the house intelligence committee, who called for Mr Sessions to resign saying he “clearly misled” the senate about contacts with Russian officials.

Mr Schiff also said in a statement that a special prosecutor should be appointed to examine allegations of Russian meddling in the presidential campaign and links to Donald Trump’s campaign.

His announcement came only an hour and a half after Mr Trump said he had “total” confidence in his attorney general and that there was no need to recuse himself.

Photo published for Pelosi Statement on Attorney General Sessions’ Recusal Announcement - Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi

Pelosi Statement on Attorney General Sessions’ Recusal Announcement – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi

Washington, D.C. — Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi released the following statement after Attorney General Sessions delivered a public statement announcing he will only narrowly recuse himself from…

democraticleader.gov

Mr Sessions was the first senator to back the billionaire’s upstart campaign. His hardline positions on trade and immigration are credited with shaping Mr Trump’s campaign manifesto.

But critics always questioned whether a campaign cheerleader was an appropriate choice to become the country’s most senior law officer.

Those questions grew on Wednesday night when the department of justice confirmed he had twice met the Russian ambassador before the election.

Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak, centre, arrives before Donald Trump's addresses to congress on February 28
Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak, centre, arrives before Donald Trump’s addresses to congress on February 28 CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES

In September they met at Mr Sessions’ Senate office at a time when Russia’s hacking operation was in full effect. The other encounter was during the republican national convention, at an event attended by as many as 50 ambassadors.

Democrats seized on the way he appeared to deny under oath any meetings during his January confirmation hearings when he was asked what he would do if anyone affiliated with the campaign had been in contact with Moscow.

“I’m not aware of any of those activities,” he said, before adding: “I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians.”

But at his news conference, he said he had been answering a question about a continuing exchange of campaign information between Trump surrogates and Russia.

“I did not respond by referring to the two meetings – one very brief after a speech, and another with two of my Congressional staffers with the Russian ambassador in Washington where no such things were discussed,” he said.

Instead he explained the conversations had included a chat about a 1991 visit he made to Russia with a church group, terrorism and Ukraine rather than American politics.

There is no evidence of any collusion between Mr Trump’s election campaign and Russia’s effort to sabotage Hillary Clinton’s run for the White House.

Yet it continues to cast a pall over Mr Trump.

Attorney general Jeff Sessions takes questions during a press conference on Thursday 
Attorney general Jeff Sessions takes questions during a press conference on Thursday CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES

Michael Flynn, his national security adviser, was forced to resign last month after it emerged he misled the vice president over conversations with the Russian ambassador.

Robert Shapiro, professor of government at Columbia University, said: “We are now getting further evidence of how the Trump administration and its officials may have been engaging in a cover-up of serious misdeeds, much like how Watergate slowly unravelled during the Nixon administration.”

Jeff Sessions

CREDIT: AP PHOTO/MOLLY RILEY

United States Senator from Alabama

Born:
24 December 1946 (age 70)

From:Selma, Alabama

Education:BA at Huntingdon College; Juris Doctorate at University of Alabama School of Law

Politics

Mr Sessions is one of the most conservative members of the US senate, taking a particularly strong line against immigration both illegal and legal.

Supreme Court controversy

Mr Sessions was nominated to the Supreme Court by president Ronald Reagan in 1986. However, his appointment was opposed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and other civil rights organisations.

Lawyers with whom he had worked testified that Mr Sessions had made racially offensive remarks and his attitude towards civil rights cases was criticised. His nomination was subsequently rejected.

Support of Trump

Mr Sessions was a major supporter of Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy. He was seen as a potential vice presidential running mate for Trump, although the campaign finally chose Mike Pence for the role.

Attorney General

On 18 November 2016, president-elect Donald Trump announced his plan to nominate Mr Sessions as Attorney General of the United States.

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