Trump has 'total' confidence in Sessions

Trump has 'total' confidence in Sessions
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President Trump said Thursday that he has "total" confidence in 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, dismissing bipartisan calls for Sessions to recuse himself from federal investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Trump told reporters he “wasn’t aware” of Sessions’ conversations with the Russian ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, but said he believes Sessions “probably did” speak truthfully to the Senate under oath.

“I don't think so,” Trump said when asked if Sessions should stop involving himself in the U.S. government’s Russia probe.

Trump threw his support behind Sessions while speaking to reporters during a tour of the USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier in Newport News, Va., where the president delivered a speech that didn't mention the swirling controversy over his attorney general.

Sessions, a former Alabama senator and Trump campaign supporter, is facing mounting pressure from Democrats and some Republicans after it was revealed he spoke twice with the Russian envoy last year and failed to tell senators during his confirmation hearing.

The Washington Post reported the conversations Wednesday night and the Justice Department confirmed them. A White House aide, speaking anonymously to news outlets, said officials first learned of Sessions’s talks with Kislyak through media reports.

The revelation set off a firestorm on Capitol Hill, forcing the Trump administration once again to confront allegations about Russia ties that have dogged the president’s first weeks in office.

GOP Sens. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanOvernight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Pence says Turkey agrees to ceasefire | Senators vow to move forward with Turkey sanctions | Mulvaney walks back comments tying Ukraine aid to 2016 probe On The Money: Senate fails to override Trump veto over border emergency | Trump resort to host G-7 next year | Senators to push Turkey sanctions despite ceasefire | McConnell tees up funding votes Senate fails to override Trump veto over emergency declaration MORE (Ohio) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsOvernight Energy: Perry to step down as Energy secretary | Future of big-game hunting council up in the air | Dems lose vote against EPA power plant rule Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Pence says Turkey agrees to ceasefire | Senators vow to move forward with Turkey sanctions | Mulvaney walks back comments tying Ukraine aid to 2016 probe On The Money: Senate fails to override Trump veto over border emergency | Trump resort to host G-7 next year | Senators to push Turkey sanctions despite ceasefire | McConnell tees up funding votes MORE (Maine) broke with leadership, saying Sessions should step aside to allow an independent inquiry into Russian meddling to take place.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzElijah Cummings, Democratic chairman and powerful Trump critic, dies at 68 House 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 MORE (R-Utah) made a similar call, asking Sessions to clarify testimony he gave during his confirmation hearings and recuse himself.

Democrats, led by Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTrump touts Turkey cease-fire: 'Sometimes you have to let them fight' Mattis responds to Trump criticism: 'I guess I'm the Meryl Streep of generals' Democrats vow to push for repeal of other Trump rules after loss on power plant rollback MORE (N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), have gone even further, calling on Sessions to resign. They were joined by at least one Republican, first-term Rep. Brian Mast (Fla.).

"Jeff Sessions needs to immediately clarify his Senate testimony and recuse himself from any investigation into Russian ties,” Mast said in a statement. “If he cannot commit to ensuring this process is completed with full transparency and integrity, he should resign.”

The new revelations threw a wrench into Trump’s plan to harness momentum generated by his well-received joint address to Congress on Tuesday, which Republicans hoped to use to move forward on key agenda items, including ObamaCare repeal and tax reform.

Now Washington’s focus is squarely back on the Russia controversy, which Trump hoped to move past after he asked retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn to resign as national security adviser two weeks ago for misleading Vice President Pence and others about his talks with Kislyak.

The Justice Department admitted Sessions spoke to the ambassador twice during the campaign, most recently in September.

But Sessions denied that he misled lawmakers during his confirmation hearings, saying the conversations occurred in his capacity as a member of the Armed Services Committee and not as a Trump campaign surrogate.

Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenTake Trump literally and seriously in Minnesota Ninth woman accuses Al Franken of inappropriate contact Al Franken to host SiriusXM radio show MORE (D-Minn.) asked Sessions in a Jan. 10 hearing what he would do if there was evidence if Trump associates communicated with the Russian government during the election.

"I'm not aware of any of those activities,” Sessions responded. “I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians."

Democrats said that Sessions’ comments were untruthful and are grounds for dismissal.

“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 said. “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.”

It’s not unusual for senators to speak with foreign ambassadors and Sessions said his conversations fell into the routine category. But the attorney general did offer in an interview with NBC News to recuse himself “whenever it's appropriate.”

But Sessions also has many defenders among congressional Republicans.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamErdoğan got the best of Trump, experts warn Graham: I'm seeking to make Trump successful 'but not at all costs' The Memo: Trump's sea of troubles deepens MORE (R-S.C.) said calls for Sessions’s resignation are “crazy,” and Sen. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonHillicon Valley: GOP lawmakers offer election security measure | FTC Dem worries government is 'captured' by Big Tech | Lawmakers condemn Apple over Hong Kong censorship Lawmakers condemn Apple, Activision Blizzard over censorship of Hong Kong protesters Lawmakers set to host fundraisers focused on Nats' World Series trip MORE (R-Ark.), a vocal Trump backer, accused Democrats of playing politics.

“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 White House signaled earlier on Thursday that Sessions wasn’t on the hot seat, despite the controversy swirling around him.

“There’s nothing to recuse himself,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said in an interview with Fox News. “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.”

Updated: 3:20 p.m.