Under Pressure, Sessions Recuses Himself From Campaign Inquiries

AG says he reached decision after meeting with DOJ ethics officials

Attorney General Jeff Sessions was commended by Republicans for his decision but Democrats reiterated their calls for him to resign. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Attorney General Jeff Sessions was commended by Republicans for his decision but Democrats reiterated their calls for him to resign. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted March 2, 2017 at 6:12pm

Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday recused himself from any investigation related to the 2016 U.S. election, including into alleged ties between President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russian officials. 

Sessions’ announcement comes less than 24 hours after The Washington Post reported that the former Alabama senator spoke twice during the presidential campaign with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States. Sessions, who served as a senior Trump adviser during the campaign, did not disclose those meetings at his confirmation hearing, despite being asked whether he had any contacts with Russian officials.

Speaking to reporters Thursday at the Justice Department, Sessions said he has decided to recuse himself after meeting earlier in the day with the department’s ethics officials about how to proceed.

“I asked for their candid and honest opinion about what I should do about investigations, certain investigations,” Sessions said. “My staff recommended recusal. They said that since I had involvement with the campaign, I should not be involved in any campaign investigation.”

“I believe those recommendations are right and just. Therefore, I have recused myself in the matters that deal with the Trump campaign,” he said.

Sessions was careful not to confirm that the FBI is conducting an investigation, although multiple news reports have said that the bureau for months has been probing possible links between Trump associates and Russian operatives.

Sessions’ failure to disclose those contacts during the confirmation process — both at his hearing and in his written responses to questions — had raised red flags for many in Congress, particularly Democrats who believe that he could not provide fair oversight of any investigation into the Kremlin’s alleged election meddling.

Leading Democrats in the House and Senate had seized upon the discrepancy in Sessions’ comments to demand he recuse himself. Some even called for his resignation.

For some, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Sessions’ recusal did not go far enough. She called it a “sorry attempt to explain away his perjury” and accused him of trying to maintain the ability to steer the larger investigation.

“Attorney General Sessions’ lies to the Senate and to the American people make him unfit to serve as the chief law enforcement officer of our country. He must resign immediately,” she said in a statement.

In the Senate, Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer reiterated his calls for a special prosecutor to investigate contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia. The New York Democrat said Sessions’ recusal points to a “troubling pattern” in the Trump administration.

“They only do the right thing when they are caught doing the wrong thing,” Schumer said.

Republicans, who had largely defended Sessions, commended their former colleague on his decision.

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn praised the attorney general’s decision to recuse himself from investigations relating to the campaign.

“AG Sessions is a good and honorable person, who has done the right thing,” the Texas Republican said in a tweet.

The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte, said Sessions “did the right thing.”

“I applaud his decision to avoid even the appearance of impropriety in order to ensure the American people have confidence in our justice system,” the Virginia Republican said.