Attorney General Sessions will recuse himself from investigations related to Trump campaign

Sessions: Told White House counsel about recusal decision
Sessions: Told White House counsel about recusal decision

Attorney General Jeff Sessions will remove himself from any current or future investigations related to President Donald Trump 's election campaign amid backlash over his testimony about contacts with Russia.

But a late Thursday report from The Wall Street Journal raised questions about the use of his campaign funds for the trip to Cleveland to attend the Republican National Convention and where he met with the Russian ambassador. The report cited a person at the convention and campaign finance records.

In a news conference Thursday, Sessions said Justice Department staff recommended that he recuse himself from probes "in any way" related to Trump's campaign. Critics questioned whether Sessions could be impartial in investigations related not only to Trump's campaign, but also the president's conduct more broadly, due to his role as an adviser to Trump's campaign.

"I feel like I should not be involved in investigating a campaign I had a role in," Sessions said.

He also defended his testimony in which he appeared to mislead senators about his contact with Sergey Kislyak, Russian ambassador to the United States. He said that, due to the framing of Democratic Sen. Al Franken's question to him, he "focused (his) answer on" whether he met the official in his role as a campaign surrogate, not his position as a then-senator.

"In retrospect, I should have slowed down and said I did meet with one official a couple of times and that was the Russian ambassador," Sessions said Thursday. Sessions said he will send a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday or Friday clarifying his testimony.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions answers questions during a press conference at the US Justice Department on March 2, 2017, in Washington DC.
Nicholas Kamm | AFP | Getty Images

Sessions has faced increasing pressure after a Washington Post report that he met twice with Kislyak before the 2016 presidential election. The report sparked questions about whether he contradicted his testimony to the Senate and prompted bipartisan calls for recusal from Russia-related probes. The top Democrats in both the Senate and House urged Sessions to resign.

Sessions oversees the Justice Department and FBI, which have led investigations into alleged Russian meddling in the election and any links between Russia and Trump associates. Sessions' recusal will put a deputy in charge of the investigations that relate to the Trump campaign, but it is not entirely clear how broad that recusal will be.

Asked about possible Trump campaign contacts with Russia during his January confirmation hearing, Sessions said he had "been called a surrogate a time or two in that campaign." He said he "did not have communications with the Russians" and was unable to comment on alleged contacts between Trump campaign officials and Russian officials.

On Thursday, Sessions said "it's possible" that he met with Kislyak beyond the two times he acknowledged but is not sure. He added that he does not believe he met with any other Russian officials.

Trump said Thursday that he has "total" confidence in Sessions as the top U.S. law enforcement official. Trump told pool reporters in Virginia that he thought Sessions "probably" testified truthfully about the issue during his confirmation hearing. Trump previously said he did not think the attorney general should recuse himself from any Russia-related investigations, which some lawmakers on both sides of the aisle urged.

Trump joined House Speaker Paul Ryan and many Republicans in saying Sessions should not distance himself from Russia-linked investigations outright. A Democratic member of the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, told MSNBC on Thursday that "recusal is a good step" but "it has to be broader than the campaign."

After Sessions' remarks, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi accused him of making a "sorry attempt to explain away his perjury." She again called on him to "resign immediately."

Trump has also defended former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, whose resignation was sparked by contradictions to top White House officials about his conversations with the same Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak.

Ryan noted that the House and Senate intelligence committees are still investigating the extent of Russia's influence in the 2016 presidential election and argued the probes are best served staying within the committees.

He added that lawmakers have seen "no evidence" to determine that associates of the Trump campaign colluded with Russian officials.

AG Jeff Sessions recuses himself from any campaign probe
AG Jeff Sessions recuses himself from any campaign probe

Late Thursday in the U.S., prior to the WSJ report on the how Sessions' trip to Cleveland was funded, Trump tweeted comments which echoed his earlier statement from the White House calling Sessions "an honest man. He did not say anything wrong. He could have stated his response more accurately, but it was clearly not intentional."

Trump's statement blamed the Democratic party, claiming both that they had "lost their grip on reality" and that there were "illegal leaks of classified and other information."

Donald J. Trump @realDonaldTrump: Jeff Sessions is an honest man. He did not say anything wrong. He could have stated his response more accurately, but it was clearly not....

Donald J. Trump @realDonaldTrump: ...intentional. This whole narrative is a way of saving face for Democrats losing an election that everyone thought they were supposed.....

Donald J. Trump @realDonaldTrump: ...to win. The Democrats are overplaying their hand. They lost the election, and now they have lost their grip on reality. The real story...

Donald J. Trump @realDonaldTrump: ...is all of the illegal leaks of classified and other information. It is a total "witch hunt!"

At the same time, Sessions appeared on Fox News to defend meeting the Russian ambassador as a normal course of business for a U.S. senator.

"I don't believe there's anything wrong with a U.S. Senator meeting with an ambassador from Russia," he told Fox News.

However, the WSJ report on how Sessions' trip to Cleveland was financed raised questions about whether the trip was official or campaign-related.

The WSJ reported that records indicated Sessions used his own campaign funds and that Trump's campaign records indicated it didn't reimburse Sessions for the Cleveland trip.

This story was updated to note the tweets from Trump, comments from Sessions on Fox and The Wall Street Journal's report on the financing of Sessions' trip to Cleveland.