WASHINGTON (WCCO) — Attorney General Jeff Sessions says he will recuse himself from an investigation into Russia’s involvement in the U-S election.
Sessions said he did not lie to Minnesota Senator Al Franken when questioned about what he would do if anyone in the Trump campaign had communicated with Russian officials. Here’s the full exchange from Sessions’ confirmation hearing in January:
FRANKEN: 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 compromising 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’s surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government.”
Now, again, I’m telling you this as it’s 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 Russian government in the course of this campaign, what will you do?
SESSIONS: Senator Franken, 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 didn’t have — did not have communications with the Russians, and I’m unable to comment on it.
Sessions now says he did have two conversations with the Russian ambassador, but not about the Trump campaign.
President Donald Trump said he has “total confidence” in his attorney general.
Sen. Franken said early Thursday afternoon he was not satisfied, and had written Sessions demanding answers.
“The most generous interpretation is that he was being misleading,” Franken said. “I am asking him why he didn’t clarify this why he didn’t correct the records.”
Late Thursday afternoon, Sessions — who testified under oath — said he believed Senators Franken’s question only pertained to meetings with Russian officials only dealt with meetings about the election.
“My reply to the question by Senator Franken was honest and correct as I understood it at the time,” Sessions said.
Earlier Thursday, prominent Congressional Democrats — including Rep. Keith Ellison, Rep. Betty McCollum and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer — called for Sessions resignation.
“The Department of Justice should be beyond reproach,” Schumer said. “Attorney General Sessions should resign.”
Political analysts say this latest controversy fuels the controversy about the Presidents ties to Russia
“The revelation that the attorney general had several conversations with Russia is yet another damaging blow to the Trump administration,” University of Minnesota political science professor Larry Jacobs said.
Jacobs says the firestorm is elevating Sen. Franken’s already high profile as a top Trump critic.
“At this time, he has the question at the right time for Senator Sessions,” Jacobs said.
While Attorney General Sessions said he would personally recuse himself from any federal investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, that is not likely to ease concerns from both prominent Republicans and Democrats who are wondering about what exactly is and has been the relationship with President Trump and Russia.
Here’s Franken’s full letter to Sessions:
“Reports indicate that you communicated with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak while serving as a prominent member of President Trump’s campaign team—conversations you failed to disclose during your confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.” Sen. Franken wrote in his letter. “During that hearing, I asked you, ‘if there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign, what will you do?’ You answered, ‘Senator Franken, 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.’ We now know that statement not to be true, and if it is determined that you lied under oath to the Committee and the American people, it is your responsibility to resign.”
Sen. Amy Klobuchar commented that “now more than ever we need a special prosecutor to look into all contacts with Russian officials.” She also later released this statement:
“Attorney General Sessions must agree to come before the Judiciary Committee immediately so that we can determine whether he lied to the committee and the American people as well as how this relates to the question of Russian interference in our election. We need to know what happened at that meeting, whether he communicated with the Trump campaign before or after the meeting, and whether this is part of a bigger pattern.
“Three days before Attorney General Sessions’ September meeting with the Russian ambassador, President Obama made it clear to Vladimir Putin and the world that the U.S. would not roll back sanctions on Russia. This resembles news that broke just a few weeks ago that Michael Flynn contacted the Russian ambassador on the same day the U.S. expanded sanctions on Russia.
“There is nothing less at stake here than the preservation of our democracy. The American people deserve answers.”
Rep. Betty McCollum issued the following statement:
“Attorney General Jeff Sessions deceived both his colleagues in the Senate and the American people about his contacts with the Russian government. Just over a month into his term, President Donald Trump’s entire administration has been engulfed in scandal over communications with Russian officials and misleading the public about them.
“Given this deception, President Trump should immediately fire Attorney General Sessions. A special prosecutor should be appointed to conduct a comprehensive criminal investigation.
“At the same time, it is obvious that the Trump administration cannot be trusted to investigate itself. Congressional Republicans must launch an immediate, bipartisan inquiry into President Trump and his associates’ contacts with Russia. It is long past time for Congressional Republicans to put country before party, stop the Trump administration’s cover-up, and get to the bottom of the scandals that have already tarred this Presidency.”
And Rep. Keith Ellison said, “Since it has now come to light that Attorney General Jeff Sessions lied under oath about meeting with Russian officials during the campaign, we must be entirely clear on one thing: perjury is a felony and may be punishable by prison for up to five years.”