Democrats in Congress are calling on U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from an investigation into Russian interference with the November presidential election, or to resign, after learning that Sessions met last year with the Russian ambassador to the U.S.
Sessions supported President Donald Trump’s run for president and served as an adviser for his campaign while serving in the U.S. Senate.
After being nominated to lead the Justice Department, Sessions was asked at his confirmation hearing in January what he would do if evidence emerged that anyone from Trump’s campaign was in contact with Russia.
“I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I didn’t have, did not have communications with the Russians, and I’m unable to comment on it,” he responded.
Sessions had met Ambassador Sergei Kislyak in July at an event on the sidelines of the Republican National Convention, and again in September at his Capitol Hill office.
A White House official said the talks were held in Sessions' official capacity as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee which is "entirely consistent with his testimony" during his confirmation hearing. The official accused "partisan Democrats" of launching another attack against the Trump administration.
Earlier, Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said "there was absolutely nothing misleading" about the statement Sessions made under oath. She said he was asked about communications between Russia and the Trump campaign, not meetings he had as a senator.
“I have never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign,” Sessions said in a later statement Flores posted on Twitter. “I have no idea what this allegation is about. It is false.”
Two committees investigating
The Federal Bureau of Investigation, which is part of the Justice Department, is investigating Russian activities aimed at disrupting the U.S. election and any possible links between the Trump campaign and the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The Senate intelligence committee is carrying out its own probe, and the House intelligence committee announced parameters for its investigation Wednesday.
Senator Al Franken, who asked Sessions the question about Russian links at the confirmation hearing, was among the Democrats who said Wednesday the attorney general should not be involved in any investigation.
“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.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi went further, calling for Sessions to step down.
“Sessions is not fit to serve as the top law enforcement officer of our country and must resign. There must be an independent, bipartisan, outside commission to investigate the Trump political, personal and financial connections to Russia,” Pelosi said.
Senator Elizabeth Warren said the situation is a serious threat the U.S. national security.
“We need a special prosecutor totally independent of the AG,” she said. “We need a real, bipartisan, transparent congressional investigation into Russia. And we need Attorney General Jeff Sessions — who should never have been confirmed in the first place — to resign. We need it now.”
Senator Lindsey Graham, a prominent Republican who served with Sessions on the Armed Services Committee, also said during a CNN town hall event Wednesday that an independent investigator should be in charge of the probe.
“It is clear to me that Jeff Sessions, who is my dear friend, cannot make this decision about Trump. There may be nothing there, but if there’s something there, if the FBI believes there’s criminal nature, then for sure you need a special prosecutor.”
Trump’s administration has seen the resignation of his first national security adviser over links to Russia. Michael Flynn stepped down after information emerged that he had lied to top officials about the nature of his own conversations with the Russian ambassador.
Trump has denied multiple reports that people connected to his campaign had connections with members of the Russian government during the election season.
Assessments by U.S. intelligence agencies found that Russia carried out hacking attacks aimed at disrupting the election in favor of Trump over his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.