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Sessions recuses himself from investigation into Russian influence on election

Updated March 2, 2017 - 2:49 pm

WASHINGTON – Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself Thursday from any investigations of Russian operatives’ involvement in the 2016 elections.

But Sessions, who was a long-time U.S. senator before becoming the country’s top law enforcement official, said he did nothing wrong when he did not disclose during Senate testimony that he had met last year with Russia’s ambassador.

Session’s announcement capped a day that began with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi calling on the attorney general to resign after the Washington Post reported he misled the Senate during confirmation hearings.

They also called on the Department of Justice to name a special prosecutor to investigate Russian actions meant to influence the election.

Since President Donald Trump won the election, Democrats have used reports that Russian intelligence tried to make mischief during the campaign season to demand investigations into possible collusion between the Russians and the Trump camp.

House Speaker Paul Ryan noted Thursday that there has been “no evidence anyone in (the) Trump campaign was involved in it.” Nonetheless, the controversy already has netted one career casualty. Trump fired his first National Security Adviser, Mike Flynn, after it became known that Flynn withheld information about a conversation with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the transition period.

SENATE TESTIMONY

The Post reported Wednesday that Sessions, whose early endorsement of Trump was considered pivotal, had met twice with Kislyak in 2016 when Sessions was on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

But in January, when Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., asked Sessions how he would handle information that a campaign operative had met with Russian operatives, Sessions replied, “I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign, and I did not have communications with the Russians.”

After the Post story, Sessions issued a statement in which he clarified, “I never met with Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign.”

At a news conference, Pelosi maintained that Sessions “lied under oath to his colleagues in the Senate and to the American people.”

Schumer would not go that far. He told reporters, “every nominee goes through the record afterwards and they make corrections. If the next day he would have said I forgot and here’s what I said, it’s a lot different than letting the record stand, especially with all the questions swirling about.”

Robert Amsterdam, an international attorney with Russian clients, said of Session’s explanation, “it’s not a happy answer, but it’s an answer.”

“I think that Nancy Pelosi and a number of key Democrats, they have such outrage over the election that they’re just blinded. We’ve got to cut a bit of slack for human error,” Amsterdam said.

While he sees calls for Sessions’ resignation as “over the top,” Amsterdam said he thought Sessions should recuse himself, if an investigation is warranted.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., told CNN that she had trouble believing Sessions and Kislyak did not discuss the campaign given that one meeting was in September 2016.

TRUMP BACKS SESSIONS

During a tour of the U.S.S. Gerald R. Ford where he touted his proposed increases in military spending, Trump told reporters he did not think Sessions should recuse himself. Trump said he was unaware Sessions met with Kislyak, but had “total” confidence in his top lawman.

A sliver of Republicans in Congress had begun to migrate in the other direction. Reps. Barbara Comstock of Virginia and Jason Chaffetz of Utah tweeted that Sessions should recuse himself. Sen. Rob Portman had argued likewise.

Sessions and other Trump supporters had called on then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch to recuse herself from an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a home-brew server for her official Secretary of State email after former President Clinton arranged a private meeting with Lynch on a Phoenix tarmac. They also suggested a special counsel be appointed.

On Thursday, Sessions credited Department of Justice ethics officials with whom he consulted for helping him reach the decision to recuse himself from “any existing or future investigations of any matters related in any way” to any presidential campaigns.

Not that there are any investigations. Sessions added, “This announcement should not be interpreted as confirmation of the existence of any investigation or suggestive of the scope of any such investigation.

Contact Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@reviewjournal.com or at 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.

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