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 SessionsPress: For Trump endorsement: The more sordid, the better Those predicting Facebook's demise are blowing smoke If bitcoin is 'digital gold,' it should be taxed like gold 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.

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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 PortmanJD Vance raises more than million in second fundraising quarter for Ohio Senate bid Cleveland Plain Dealer urges Portman to reconsider retirement Johnson, Thune signal GOP's rising confidence MORE (Ohio) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsVoting rights, Trump's Big Lie, and Republicans' problem with minorities More than 30 million families to lose child tax credit checks starting this weekend Sinema scuttles hopes for filibuster reform 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 ChaffetzNunes retirement move seen as sign of power shift in GOP Congress's latest hacking investigation should model its most recent Fox News Audio expands stable of podcasts by adding five new shows 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 SchumerChuck SchumerRomney: I never got a call from White House to discuss voting rights Kyrsten Sinema's courage, Washington hypocrisy and the politics of rage Joe Biden's disastrous 48 hours 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 FrankenMeet the Democrats' last best hope of preserving a House majority Franken rules out challenge against Gillibrand for Senate seat Franken targets senators from both parties in new comedy tour 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.

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Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamKyrsten Sinema's courage, Washington hypocrisy and the politics of rage Hillicon Valley: Amazon's Alabama union fight — take two McConnell will run for another term as leader despite Trump's attacks MORE (R-S.C.) said calls for Sessions’s resignation are “crazy,” and Sen. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonSinema scuttles hopes for filibuster reform Republicans threaten floor takeover if Democrats weaken filibuster  Will Putin sink Biden? 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.