Sessions faces growing pressure to recuse himself from Russia probe

Pressure is mounting on Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsTrump attacks Sessions: A 'total disaster' and 'an embarrassment to the great state of Alabama' Ocasio-Cortez fires back at Washington Times after story on her 'high-dollar hairdo' Trump's tirades, taunts and threats are damaging our democracy MORE to recuse himself from investigations into Russia’s connections to President Trump’s campaign after the revelation that he spoke with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. during the presidential race.
 
Sessions is facing escalating calls from Republican leaders, including House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzHouse Oversight panel demands DeVos turn over personal email records The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - Trump attack on progressive Dems draws sharp rebuke GOP senators decline to criticize Acosta after new Epstein charges MORE (R-Utah), to clarify testimony he gave during his confirmation hearings, in which he denied having any contact with Russian officials.
 
Republicans like former Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanTrump's GOP impeachment firewall holds strong 10 top Republicans who continue to deny the undeniable GOP braces for impeachment brawl MORE (R-Ohio) are calling on Sessions to step aside so an independent review of Russian meddling into the election can take place with the full confidence of the American people.
 
“We need an independent review by a credible third party and that Attorney General Sessions should recuse himself from any investigation into Russia,” Issa said. “We need a clear-eyed view of what the Russians actually did so that all Americans can have faith in our institutions.”
 
Several House Republicans from swing districts, including Reps. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), Ryan Costello (R-Pa.), Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) and Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.), who is on the House Intelligence Committee, also joined the calls for Sessions to recuse himself.
 
Pressure is also coming from the left, as Sessions faces mounting calls — led by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerPelosi fires back after Trump 'meltdown': 'We have to pray for his health' 5 big wins in US-China trade pact Trump defends 'crime buster' Giuliani amid reported probe MORE (D-N.Y.) — to resign from the Justice Department completely.
 
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“There cannot be even a scintilla of doubt about the impartiality and fairness of the attorney general, the top law enforcement official of the land,” Schumer told reporters at a news conference. “It’s clear Attorney General Sessions does not meet that test. Because the Department of Justice should be above reproach, for the good of the country, Attorney General Sessions should resign.”
 
About 100 Democrats in the House have called on Sessions to resign and all of the Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee signed a letter to the FBI calling for a criminal investigation into whether Sessions perjured himself.
 
Trump told reporters Thursday that he has “total” confidence in his attorney general and that he doesn’t believe Sessions needs to recuse himself from any investigations.
 
The controversy has put the White House on defense at a time when President Trump was otherwise basking in the afterglow of his well-received Tuesday speech to a joint session of Congress.
 
Adorned in an olive-colored bomber jacket and Navy hat, Trump on Thursday addressed military members aboard a new aircraft carrier in Newport News, Va., where he pressed Congress to dramatically expand military spending.
 
But White House press secretary Sean Spicer will likely be besieged with questions about Sessions’s future when he gaggles with reporters later this afternoon.
 
Spicer on Thursday dismissed calls for Sessions to recuse himself, telling Fox News “there’s nothing to recuse himself” and adding: “He was 100 percent straight with the committee and I think that people [who] are choosing to play partisan politics with this should be ashamed of themselves.”
 
Sessions has argued that he spoke to Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak last year in his capacity as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, not as a Trump surrogate, and that he was not trying to mislead fellow senators when he said during his confirmation hearing that he had not been in contact with Moscow.
 
“I never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign,” he said in a statement. “I have no idea what this allegation is about. It is false.”
 
That statement has done little to quell the uproar. Sessions will almost certainly need to further explain the nature of his conversations with Kislyak and why he didn’t reveal the meetings when he testified under oath at his confirmation hearings.
 
Sessions may look to head off mounting calls from Democrats to resign by recusing himself from investigations into Russian ties to Trump campaign officials.
 
“I have said whenever it's appropriate, I will recuse myself," he told NBC News early Thursday. "There's no doubt about that." 
 
That could come soon, as Democrats are demanding he resign as attorney general or that Trump fire him.
 
“After lying under oath to Congress about his own communications with the Russians, the Attorney General must resign,” Pelosi said. “Sessions is not fit to serve as the top law enforcement officer of our country and must resign."
 
During his confirmation hearings for attorney general, Sessions testified under oath that he “did not have communications with the Russians.”
 
Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSchumer seeks focus on health care amid impeachment fever The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by USAA — Ex-Ukraine ambassador testifies Trump pushed for her ouster GOP requests update on criminal referrals prompted by 2018 Kavanaugh probe MORE (D-W.Va.), the only Democrat to vote to confirm Sessions for attorney general, came to Sessions’s defense, saying he and other senators have met with the Russian ambassador and others as part of their work on the Armed Services Committee.
 
 
“There’s no scandal in a senator meeting an ambassador, which happens all the time,” Cotton said in a statement. “I’m disappointed the Democrats are distorting the facts to impugn Attorney General Sessions’s character. The Senate Intelligence Committee’s review is proceeding, and we should follow the facts where they lead.”
 
But Sessions is otherwise getting little cover from lawmakers on either side of the aisle, punctuating the ongoing political problem the White House faces over its alleged ties to Moscow.
 
“Jeff Sessions is a former colleague and a friend, but I think it would be best for him and for the country to recuse himself from the DOJ Russian probe,” Portman said in a statement.
 
A spokeswoman for Sessions confirmed the contact with Kislyak, saying the attorney general spoke on the phone with the ambassador from his office in September. 
 
That conversation took place during a time when intelligence officials assert that Russia was interfering with the U.S. presidential election through a hacking and influence campaign.
 
In July, Sessions attended a Heritage Foundation event at the Republican National Convention that was attended by some 50 ambassadors. A small group of ambassadors, including Kislyak, approached Sessions and talked to him informally, the Justice Department official told the Washington Post.
 
“It was short and informal,” spokeswoman Sara Isgur Flores told The Wall Street Journal. 
 
During his confirmation hearing, Sessions was asked what he would do if he learned a member of Trump's campaign had communicated with the Russian government over the course of the 2016 campaign. 
 
He responded: “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.”
 
Officials said Sessions did not consider his conversations with Kislyak relevant to the lawmakers’ questions and did not remember the discussion with Kislyak in detail. And as a senior member of the committee, he met regularly foreign ambassadors, his spokeswoman said.
 
“There was absolutely nothing misleading about his answer,” Flores said. 
 
“This is the latest attack against the Trump administration by partisan Democrats,” the White House said in a statement. “Attorney General Sessions met with the ambassador in an official capacity as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is entirely consistent with his testimony.”
 
The FBI is said to be investigating contact between Russian officials and members of the Trump campaign, though there has yet to be any formal charges brought. Committees in the House and Senate are pursuing their own investigations.
 
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Wednesday said that if the FBI finds any criminal activity related to campaign aides' alleged contact with Russian officials, then a special prosecutor will likely be needed.
 
- Updated at 2:54 p.m.