Attorney General Jeff Sessions has denied reports he discussed campaign issues with Russian officials. Picture: MSNBC.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has denied reports he discussed campaign issues with Russian officials. Picture: MSNBC.

US A-G bows out of Russian investigations

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions will recuse himself from investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

It comes as he denied claims he discussed campaign issues when he met with Russian officials, amid calls for his resignation.

"Let me be clear. I never had meetings with Russians operatives, Russian intermediairies" he said at a Justice Department press conference Thurday afternoon (US time). "It is false."

Mr Sessions is under fire after it was revealed he met twice last year with Russia's ambassador to Washington, seemingly contradicting statements he made in Senate confirmation hearings.

But he told reports at the press conference his response at the hearings was "honest and correct as I understood it at the time."

Mr Sessions said he would write to the judiciairy today or tomorrow to explain the matter further.

Earlier he told NBC News: "I have not met with any Russians at any time to discuss any political campaign. Those remarks are unbelievable to me and are false. And I don't have anything else to say about that."

Mr Sessions' spokeswoman confirmed he had met Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak last year in his capacity as senator.

But she said "there was absolutely nothing misleading about his answer" because Mr Sessions was asked during the hearing about "communications between Russia and the Trump campaign" and not about meetings he took as a member of the Armed Services Committee.

President Donald Trump said he "wasn't aware" that Sessions had contact with the Russian ambassador during last year's White House campaign.

Trump made the comment in Newport News, Virginia, before giving a speech aboard the USS Gerald Ford.

He said he had "total" confidence in his attorney general.

Asked if Sessions should recuse himself, Trump said: "I don't think so."

The Russian embassy to the United States said on Thursday it was in regular contact with "US partners" but refused to go in to detail about the meetings with Mr Sessions.

"The embassy doesn't comment on numerous contacts with local partners, which occur on a daily basis in line with diplomatic practice," Russian embassy spokesman Nikolai Lakhonin told Russia's Interfax news agency.

Russia denies meddling in the US elections with Russian officials saying the issue is being deliberately used by Mr Trump's opponents to derail chances of a swift warming in US-Russia ties.

The Washington Post reported late on Wednesday that Mr Sessions - formerly a senator who advised Mr Trump's campaign on foreign policy and other issues - met Ambassador Kislyak in July and September, just as accusations of Russian interference in the election were mounting.

Mr Sessions, however, told his confirmation hearing at the Senate Judiciary Committee on January 10 that he did not know of contacts between Trump campaign members and Russia.

"I did not have communications with the Russians," he said under oath, an eerily similar denial to former president Bill Clinton who famously said "I did not have sexual relations with that woman" during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

At that time, Sessions had called for Clinton's prosecution during his impeachment trial in 1999, saying the president's lies about his sexual relationship with the White House intern were tantamount to an "attack" on the law.

"It has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt and to a moral certainty that President William Jefferson Clinton perjured himself before a federal grand jury," said the then-senator from Alabama.

"Under our Constitution, equal justice requires that he forfeit his office. For these reasons, I felt compelled to vote to convict and remove the president from office."

The new revelation about Sessions' ties to Russia cast a fresh cloud over President Trump's administration, which has repeatedly denied any suspected ties between members of his election team and Russia - which US intelligence says interfered in the 2016 campaign against Hillary Clinton.

The White House quickly labelled the report an attack by partisan Democrats, confirming the meetings but arguing Sessions did nothing wrong.

But with US intelligence agencies, the Justice Department, and four Congressional committees examining the Russia scandal, Democrats demanded that Mr Sessions recuse himself from the investigations and for Congress to name an independent special investigator to oversee a broad probe.

"Given AG Sessions' false statements about contacts with Russian officials, we need a special counsel to investigate Trump associates' ties to Russia," said Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

On Thursday morning, House Majority Leader Representative Kevin McCarthy suggested Mr Sessions should recuse himself from Russia investigation.

"I just think he needs to clarify what these meetings were," he told MSNBC.

On Thursday Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer called on Mr Sessions to resign.

The previous day Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in the House of Representatives, made the same demand.

"After lying under oath to Congress about his own communications with the Russian, the attorney general must resign," she said.

Democrat Elijah Cummings of the House Oversight Committee echoed that call.

"When senator Sessions testified under oath that 'I did not have communications with the Russians,' his statement was demonstrably false, yet he let it stand for weeks," Mr Cummings said.

"Attorney General Sessions should resign immediately, and there is no longer any question that we need a truly independent commission to investigate this issue."

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham called for answers on Russian ties but cautioned that contacts between the Trump campaign and Moscow "may be legitimate."

"If there were contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials, they may be legitimate; they may be okay. I want to know what happened between the Trump campaign, the Clinton campaign and the Russians," Senator Graham said at a CNN town hall on Wednesday night.

Mr Sessions was confirmed as Attorney General on February 8, moving in place to oversee Justice Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation probes into the alleged communications between Trump campaign officials and Moscow.

Meanwhile, The New York Times reported that Obama administration officials scrambled to distribute evidence of Russian hacking to influence the 2016 presidential election, fearing the incoming Trump White House would destroy the paper trail.

Officials ordered raw intel analysed and compiled into reports with low security clearance so they'd be easily accessible, and they asked pointed questions during intelligence briefings knowing answers would be archived.

News Corp Australia

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