FILE - In this Feb. 9, 2017, file photo, Attorney General Jeff Sessions holds a meeting with the heads of federal law enforcement components at the Department of Justice in Washington. When President Donald Trump spoke to the National Prayer Breakfast this month, he underscored his vow to defend the religious rights of the conservative Christians who helped propel him to power. Now, they expect the Justice Department under Sessions will reposition itself as a champion of what they see as that religious freedom. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, Pool) ((AP Photo/Susan Walsh, Pool)

"I should not be investigating a campaign I had a role in": Jeff Sessions announces he will recuse himself

The Attorney General did not admit any wrongdoing but did pull himself from any probes of Trump's ties to Russia

Sophia Tesfaye
March 3, 2017 3:11AM (UTC)

Only three weeks after being confirmed as U.S. Attorney General, Jeff Sessions announced that he would recuse himself from any matter related to President Donald Trump's presidential campaign and the ongoing probe of the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.

"My staff recommended recusal," Sessions told reporters Thursday. "I believe those recommendations are right and just. Therefore I have recused myself."


A Washington Post report late Wednesday detailed two meetings between Sessions and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak ― one at a Heritage Foundation event in July, and another in Sessions’ Senate office in September― while Session served in a senior surrogate role for the Trump campaign. Another Wall Street Journal report released Wednesday alleged Sessions is being probed by federal investigators for his communications with Russian officials.

"During the course of the last several weeks, I have met with the relevant senior career department officials to discuss whether I should recuse myself from any matters arising from the campaigns for president of the United States," Sessions said in a statement. "Having concluded those matters today, I have decided to recuse myself from any existing or future investigations of any matters related in any way top the campaign for president of the United States."

During his confirmation hearing on Feb. 8, Sessions said he "did not have communications with the Russians" when asked by Democratic Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota.


"My reply to Sen. Franken was honest," Sessions insisted on Thursday.

"Let me be clear," Sessions said to open his press conference, "I never had meetings with Russian operatives or Russian intermediaries during the campaign." In a statement issued Wednesday night, Sessions similarly said he "never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign. I have no idea what this allegation is about. It is false." By Thursday morning, Sessions told NBC News, "I have said whenever it's appropriate, I will recuse myself. There’s no doubt about that."


In a statement Wednesday, White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called Sessions' troubles "the latest attack against the Trump administration by partisan Democrats." However, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have called for Sessions to recuse himself from any investigation into the Trump campaign's ties to Russia or Russian interference in the U.S. election.

But hours before Sessions' announcement, Press Secretary Sean Spicer said of the attorney general, "There's nothing to recuse himself [over], he was 100 percent straight with the committee." Asked earlier Thursday whether Sessions should recuse himself, President Trump added: "I don't think so."


Contact with Russia has already caused Trump's first national security advisor, Michael Flynn, to resign last month.

Then-Sen. Sessions, R -Alabama, called on then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch to recuse herself from the investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server after she spoke with Bill Clinton on an Arizona airport tarmac. In a Nov. 2016 letter co-written by Rudy Giuliani, Sessions berated Lynch for not appointing a special counsel to the Clinton email investigation.

There is currently no confirmed deputy attorney general, so former acting attorney general Dana Boente will now be responsible for decisions regarding campaign-related investigations.

Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's Deputy Politics Editor and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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