Several Republican lawmakers on Thursday called for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from investigations into any alleged ties between President Donald Trump's surrogates and the Russian government.
Another top Republican, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, appeared to support the idea but later issued a clarification.
Sessions, a Trump campaign surrogate, is under increasing pressure following a Washington Post report that he met twice with Russia's ambassador to the United States before the 2016 presidential election. The report appears to contradict his denial in confirmation testimony to the Senate.
On Thursday, Sessions told NBC News that he did not meet with "any Russians at any time to discuss any political campaign." His spokeswoman said they came in his capacity as a senator on the Armed Services Committee.
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 told NBC on Thursday that he will recuse himself "whenever it's appropriate," but did not say he will distance himself from Russia-related investigations specifically.
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, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz told MSNBC he thinks Sessions should recuse himself from Russia-related investigations.
"Based on what we've read — and the information is not complete — I think the attorney general should further clarify and I do think he's going to need to recuse himself at this point," the Utah Republican said. He added that he came to his conclusion because of how Sessions answered questions in his testimony.
McCarthy, R-Calif., also told MSNBC he thought it would be "easier" for Sessions to step back from any potential Russia-linked investigations.
"I think, the trust of the American people you recuse yourself in these situations ," he said on "Morning Joe." "I don't have all the information in front of me, I don't want to pre-judge, but I just think for any investigation going forward you want to make sure everybody trusts the investigation, that there's no doubt within the investigation … I think it would be easier from that standpoint."
However, McCarthy later backtracked on "Fox and Friends," saying "I'm not calling on him to recuse himself." He added that "it's amazing how people spin things so quickly."
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said it "would be best for him and the country" if Sessions recused himself from investigations. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina also said it would be best for Sessions stepped back from any probes.
Many Democrats urged Sessions to recuse himself, while some went a step further in their responses to the Post report. Lawmakers including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts called on him to resign.
However, many Republicans, including Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, defended Sessions' actions and signaled they would not push for him to recuse himself from Russia-linked investigations.
Editor's note: This story was updated with McCarthy saying he is not calling for Sessions to recuse himself.