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Attorney General Jeff Sessions denied meeting with any Russian officials during the course of the presidential election to talk about the Trump campaign, he told NBC News in exclusive remarks early Thursday.
"I have not met with any Russians at any time to discuss any political campaign," he said, "and those remarks are unbelievable to me and are false. And I don't have anything else to say about that."
When asked about the calls by Democrats to recuse himself from investigating any alleged ties between Trump's surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government, Sessions added: "I have said whenever it's appropriate, I will recuse myself. There's no doubt about that."
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Sessions' spokeswoman confirmed Wednesday night that he had met with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. before the presidential election last year in his capacity as a then-senator, raising questions about whether he misled fellow senators during his confirmation hearing in January.
His spokeswoman, Sarah Isgur Flores, told NBC News on Wednesday that Sessions, who was a prominent Trump surrogate last year, did have a conversation with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak last year. The meeting was first reported by The Washington Post.
But she said "there was absolutely nothing misleading about his answer" because Sessions was asked during the hearing about "communications between Russia and the Trump campaign" and not about meetings he took as a member of the Armed Services Committee.
Sessions had one private meeting with the Russian ambassador last September as part of his capacity as a senator, the Justice Department told NBC News.
The other encounter came after he gave a speech at the Republican National Convention in July and a group of ambassadors approached him. He did not have a one-on-one meeting with the Russians at the time.
Democrats have called for a select committee or special prosecutor to delve further into claims of Russian interference in November's election and whether the Russians yielded influence on the campaign.
If Sessions is a potential witness in any investigation, he must decide whether to recuse himself, appoint a special prosecutor or do nothing.
House Majority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" Thursday that he also thought Sessions should recuse himself from Russian-linked investigations.
"I just think for any investigation going forward, it would be easier," McCarthy said.