Bowing to intense political pressure, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Thursday that he will recuse himself from any investigations related to the 2016 presidential campaign.
The attorney general made the decision amid Democrat calls for his resignation after it emerged that he had neglected to mention two pre-election meetings with the Russian ambassador during his confirmation hearing.
Sessions had met with Sergey Kislyak, Moscow’s ambassador to Washington, twice last year when he was a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Democrats reacted with outrage to the report. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi accused Sessions of committing perjury and said that he should resign immediately.
During a hastily called press conference at the Justice Department, Sessions said he had evaluated the ethics rules and cases in which he might have a conflict, and had concluded that he should not be involved in probes related to the campaign.
“I have decided to recuse myself from any existing or future investigations of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for president of the United States,” Sessions told reporters.
“This announcement should not be interpreted as confirmation of the existence of any investigation or suggestive of the scope of any such investigation,” he added.
Sessions also made clear that he had not said anything incorrect or false during his confirmation hearing.
“I never had meetings with Russian operatives or Russian intermediaries about the Trump campaign,” he stated unequivocally. “And the idea that I was part of a — quote — “continuing exchange of information” during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government is totally false.”
Sessions was referring to Senator Al Franken’s long, convoluted question during the hearing.
CNN has just published a story and I’m telling you this about a story that has just been published, I’m not expecting you to know whether it’s true or not, but CNN just published a story, alleging that the intelligence community provided documents to the president-elect last week that included information that quote “Russian operatives claimed to have comproming personal and financial information about Mr. Trump.”
These documents also allegedly say quote “there was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government.” Again I’m telling you this is just coming out so, you know… but, if it’s true it’s obviously extremely serious. And if there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russians in the course of this campaign, what will you do?”
It was in answer to those outrageous claims that Sessions answered, “I’m not aware of any of those activities. I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians.”
“I did not respond by referring to the two meetings — one very brief after a speech, and one with my senior staff … with the Russian ambassador in Washington where no such things were discussed,” Sessions explained during his press conference. “My reply to Senator Franken was honest and correct as I understood it at the time.”
Rep. Pelosi said in a separate news conference Thursday: “I remind you that this Congress impeached a president for something so far less, having nothing to do with his duties as president of the United States.” That statement earned her two Pinocchios by the Washington Post fact-checker.