United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Thursday he would recuse himself from any Department of Justice probe into the 2016 presidential campaign.
The announcement was made at a press conference that came on the heels national reports suggesting then-Sen. Sessions had spoken to Russian ambassador Sergey I. Kislyak on at least two occasions last year.
Last February, Sessions became the first member of Congress to openly endorse Trump, later serving the campaign in an advisory capacity on issues of national security. He also remained an active surrogate for Trump throughout the campaign, introducing the future president at least two events in his home state of Alabama.
Sessions’ allegedly had contact with Kislyak during the Republican National Convention in July of 2016 following an address he gave to a group of ambassadors at an event sponsored by the Heritage Foundation. Their second interaction during the course of the campaign is said to have occurred during a visit Kislyak paid to Sessions in his Senate office last September.
Reports of those meetings, which Sessions verified but downplayed Thursday afternoon, added Republican voices to a chorus of Congressional leaders calling on the new attorney general to recuse himself from any DOJ inquiry into alleged Russian interference in the presidential campaign including the suspected hacking of Hillary Clinton’s campaign emails.
On Thursday, however, Sessions told reporters he had been in the process of discussing the rules and standards for recusal with senior staff members and ethics officials within the DOJ before The Washington Post first reported on those 2016 meetings with Kislyak.
“They said that because I had involvement with the [Trump] campaign, I should not be involved in any investigation,” Sessions said. “I believe those recommendations are right, and thus, I have decided to recuse myself from any pending or future investigations relating in any way to the 2016 campaign for president of the United States.”
However, Sessions said his decision to recuse himself over his ties to the Trump campaign shouldn’t be taken as a confirmation of any existing DOJ investigation into those or other matters.
The fact that Sessions’ met with Russian officials was overshadowed by allegations from congressional Democrats that he’d misled his colleagues in the Senate during his confirmation hearings for attorney general back in January.
At the time, Sen. Al Franken (D, Minn.) asked Sessions about reports that Trump’s campaign surrogates had allegedly exchanged information with the “intermediaries for the Russian government” throughout the campaign.
Sessions respond to Franken saying, “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.”
Though he said he’d write the Senate Judiciary Committee to clear up his testimony from those hearings, Sessions rejected the notion that his statements were “false comments,” adding that his response to Franken was “honest and correct as [he] understood it at the time.”“I was taken aback by the new information or allegations that there had been communication [with Russia] throughout the campaign, and that was what I was thinking about when I gave my answer,” Sessions said. “I should have slowed down and said, ‘I did meet one Russian official a couple of times.’”
Sessions said he had met with ambassadors from several foreign governments through his role on the Senate Armed Services Committee, all of whom he said usually want to “find things out and advance their agendas.” He added that “most of these ambassadors are pretty gossipy.”
Sessions did briefly address his interactions with Kislyak, calling him an “old style, Soviet-type ambassador.” However, other than passing comments about “Ukraine” and “terrorism,” Sessions said he didn’t recall “any specific political discussion.”