His support among fellow Republicans eroding, Attorney General Jeff Sessions bowed Thursday afternoon to demands that he recuse himself from Justice Department investigations related to the 2016 presidential campaign and Russia’s attempts to influence the outcome.
In a hastily called news conference, Sessions told reporters he had accepted advice from senior ethics experts in the Justice Department who said he should recuse himself. His move came just two hours after President Trump had given him a vote of confidence, saying there was no reason for a recusal.
Sessions insisted Thursday that he did not mislead senators who during his confirmation hearing in January asked him if he and others in the Trump campaign had had contact with the Russian government. Sessions testified then that he’d had no contact with any Russian representatives.
But on Wednesday night, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal reported that Sessions met twice last year with Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. Sessions said Thursday that his comments during the confirmation fight were made in the context of contacts in his capacity as a Trump advisor; his conversations with Kislyak were in his capacity as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The contradiction between Sessions’ sworn testimony and the new revelations of his contacts with Kislyak immediately triggered calls from Democrats and some non-partisan groups – including Common Cause – for Sessions’ resignation. A Common Cause petition urging Sessions to quit attracted more than 50,000 signatures within a few hours.
“Attorney General Sessions did what any competent attorney does when faced with the appearance of a conflict, recuse himself,” Common Cause President Karen Hobert Flynn said shortly after Sessions’ announcement. “As Attorney General, the nation’s top lawyer, his action represents only a half-step where a full step is required: a truly independent prosecutor must be appointed and a full-scale investigation conducted into the growing ties between Russia and the Trump campaign, transition, and administration.”
While President Trump stood firmly behind Sessions; other Republicans were more cautious. But as Thursday wore on, a growing chorus of GOP lawmakers backed recusal. They included Sen. Susan Collins, R-ME, a GOP moderate who was a key Sessions supporter during his confirmation fight.
“It is clear to me that Jeff Sessions, who is my dear friend, cannot make this decision about Trump,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, said Wednesday evening.
On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy grudgingly joined in calls for Sessions’ recusal. “I don’t have all the information in front of me,” he said. “I don’t want to prejudge, but I just think for any investigation going forward, you want to make sure everybody trusts the investigation. I think it’d be easier from that standpoint.”
Democrats insisted recusal would not be sufficient,
“The top cop in this country, the attorney general, lied to his colleagues and to the American people, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi declared at a late morning news conference. She and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer urged Sessions to resign.
“Stories are shifting like quicksand,” Schumer said. Sorting them out and getting to the truth about the Trump campaign and Russian interference in the election requires “an independent, impartial special prosecutor with no attachment to this administration.”
Office: Common Cause National