Attorney General Jeff Sessions will recuse himself from any investigations into contact between the Russian government and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, Sessions announced at a press conference Thursday afternoon. Sarah Isgur Flores, Sessions’ spokeswoman, told Mother Jones that neither the attorney general nor any of his staff would take part in any internal discussions on whether or not an independent special prosecutor would be appointed to investigate the 2016 campaign. That decision would presumably be left to acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente.
The hastily called press conference came as lawmakers from both parties called for Sessions to recuse himself from any investigations into Russia’s role in the election. During Sessions’ confirmation hearing, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) asked him what he would do if reports that Trump campaign associates and Russian officials had been in contact during the campaign turned out to be true. Sessions responded by denying that he had any contact with the Russians: “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.” But on Wednesday, news broke that Sessions had twice met with the Russian ambassador.
As reporters waited for Sessions to begin his press conference at DOJ headquarters Thursday, televisions tuned to CNN replayed the exchange with Franken—followed by a segment with the chyron, “Calls grow for attorney general to resign.”
When he took the podium shortly after 4 p.m., Sessions claimed that he was innocent of any wrongdoing and had not purposefully misled the Senate during his confirmation hearing. “My reply to the question of Sen. Franken was honest and correct as I understood it at the time,” he said.
Sessions said he would be writing to the Senate Judiciary Committee in the next day or two to explain his testimony. He added that his decision to remove himself from any investigations into the 2016 presidential campaign came following his review of ethics rules and input from his staff. “In the end, I have followed the right procedure, just as I promised the committee I would,” he said.
As for his September meeting with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in his Senate office, Sessions said he didn’t recall many details, before naming terrorism and Ukraine as topics that came up. Sessions also said he and Kislyak had discussed a visit Sessions paid to a Russian church in 1991 and that Kislyak had told him he was not religious. “I thought he was pretty much an old-style Soviet ambassador,” Sessions said.
When asked by reporters whether he and the ambassador had discussed the 2016 presidential campaign during their meeting, Sessions joked that “most of these ambassadors are pretty gossipy” but then switched into lawyer mode and said, “I don’t recall.”
Sessions will recuse himself from any investigations of 2016 presidential campaign pic.twitter.com/KI0Ro1CHSn
— Pema Levy (@pemalevy) March 2, 2017
This is a developing news story that will be updated.