Ex-ethics chief defends Sessions recusal: 'He did the right thing'

The former White House ethics chief defended Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsAnd the winner of the Robert Mueller Sweepstakes is — Vladimir Putin The Memo: Mueller's depictions will fuel Trump angst Collins: Mueller report includes 'an unflattering portrayal' of Trump MORE in an interview Wednesday, saying that Sessions was right to recuse himself from the Justice Department’s probe into Russian election meddling.

“I need to defend Attorney General Sessions here because he did the right thing,” Walter Shaub told MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show.”

“We told DOJ if there’s any chance that he’s part of the class of persons being looked at in this investigation, he must recuse.”

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Shaub’s defense of Sessions comes after President Trump slammed Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia investigation in an interview with The New York Times. Sessions recused himself in March after admitting that he hadn't disclosed during his Senate confirmation hearing contacts with the Russian ambassador while acting as a surrogate for Trump's campaign.

"Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else," Trump told the Times.

Shaub, who until Wednesday served as the director of the Office of Government Ethics, attributed the problem with the White House ethics program to the tone Trump has set by not divesting from his business interests.

“It starts with a little thing like the president not divesting his financial interests, which sets a tone from the top that goes cascading down through the executive branch,” Shaub explained. 

“And you wind up in a place where you have a president criticizing a law enforcement official for doing the right thing and staying out of an investigation in which he may or may not be a target. But because there’s any potential at all, they’re going to err on the side of being cautious.”

Trump in January announced that he would hand over his businesses to his two adult sons to avoid any potential conflicts of interest, but some watchdog groups have argued the president should more fully divest from his business interests.