Attorney General Jeff Sessions will recuse himself from investigations into accusations that Russians interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election to help President Donald Trump win the White House, proclaiming in a 2 March 2017 statement that:
During the course of the confirmation proceedings on my nomination to be Attorney General, I advised the Senate Judiciary Committee that ‘[i]f a specific matter arose where I believed my impartiality might reasonably be questioned, I would consult with Department ethics officials regarding the most appropriate way to proceed.
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.
Having concluded those meetings today, I have decided to recuse myself from any existing or future investigations of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for President of the United States.
Sessions had been under increasing pressure to recuse himself after the Washington Post reported that he had met with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak at least twice during the election cycle, once in July and again in September of 2016, despite testifying during his confirmation hearings in early 2017 that he had had no contact with the Russian government during Trump’s campaign. Sessions’ recusing himself came after Democrats and some Republicans pressed him to do so, including the Chair of the House Oversight Committee, Utah Republican Jason Chaffetz. At least six other Republicans broke ranks, calling for more information or saying Sessions should recuse himself from the probe.
Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee also sent a letter to FBI Director James Comey and U.S. Attorney Channing D. Phillips asking for an investigation into Sessions’s denial during his confirmation hearings that he had had contact with the Russian government during the course of Trump’s campaign.
The letter, dated 2 March 2017, cited news reports, notably those of the Washington Post, documenting meetings between Sessions and Kislyak, one of which took place on 8 September 2016 while the Republican National Convention was underway. When questioned during his confirmation hearings about contacts with the Russians, Sessions had said, “I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians.”
The letter, signed by every Democrat on the committee, asks for a criminal probe and accuses Sessions of perjury:
First, we would ask the FBI and the United States Attorney’s Office for Washington, DC to take up an immediate criminal investigation into these statements which could potentially implicate a number of criminal laws including Lying to Congress and Perjury, 18 U.S.C. §§ 1001 and 1621. We would also ask that the investigation consider any involvement or knowledge the Trump Administration and Trump Campaign may have regarding these matters. We would note that Constitutional law expert Laurence Tribe, when asked for his view on whether Attorney General Session’s statements constitute perjury, responded, “Looks like it to me: it was a knowing deliberate falsehood made under oath on a clearly pertinent matter.” Additionally, Richard W. Painter, the former chief ethics lawyer to President George W. Bush, stated about this situation, “Misleading the Senate in sworn testimony about one’s own contacts with the Russians is a good way to go to jail.”
In response to the media reports, Sessions’s spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores posted a statement to Twitter quoting him as saying, “I never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign. I have no idea what this allegation is about. It is false.” She also sent a statement to the Washington Post saying that Sessions “was asked during the hearing about communications between Russia and the Trump campaign — not about meetings he took as a senator and a member of the Armed Services Committee” and added that he had met with more than 25 ambassadors in his capacity as a member of the Armed Services Committee for reasons unrelated to Trump’s campaign.