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President Donald Trump said Thursday that he has "total" confidence in Attorney General Jeff Sessions as the top U.S. law enforcement official faces backlash for his Senate testimony about contacts with a Russian official.
Trump told pool reporters in Virginia that he thought Sessions "probably" testified truthfully about the issue during his confirmation hearing. He added that he does not think the attorney general should recuse himself from any Russia-related investigations, which some lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have urged.
Sessions, who advised Trump during his campaign, 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.
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.
Trump joins House Speaker Paul Ryan and many Republicans in saying Sessions should not distance himself from Russia-linked investigations. Several top Republicans have called for Sessions to recuse himself, while the top Democrats in both the Senate and House urged him 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 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. Sessions has said his conversations were as part of his duties as a former senator, not as a Trump campaign surrogate.
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.