Can Jeff Sessions Lead a Legitimate Investigation of Trump-Russia Ties?

Can Jeff Sessions Lead a Legitimate Investigation of Trump-Russia Ties?

Jeff Sessions is getting his first significant test as attorney general and the early results are not encouraging.

Attorney General Resisting Pressure to Step Aside from Probes

Jeff Sessions is getting his first significant test as attorney general and the early results are not encouraging.

As pressure mounts in Congress – from Republicans and Democrats alike – for a formal investigation of possible ties between the Russian government and the Trump administration, Sessions is resisting suggestions that he should recuse himself and let an independent counsel lead the probe.

Trump and his team have been dogged for months about their possible ties to the Russian government. The President has praised Russian President Vladimir Putin and for months refused to accept the intelligence community’s unanimous finding that cyber-spies working for Russia tried to influence the U.S. election in Trump’s favor.

Reported conversations between the Russian ambassador to the U.S. and Trump’s national security adviser, retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn – and Flynn’s apparent lies about those chats — on Monday led Trump to demand Flynn’s resignation. But the President has since gone out of his way to praise Flynn and blamed his departure on news reports based on information leaks by U.S. intelligence agencies.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Wednesday that Sessions should step aside from any investigation. Prosecutors and investigators on the case “should not be reporting to the first senator who endorsed Donald Trump’s campaign, who served on the same campaign committee as Michael Flynn, and who nominated Donald Trump at the Republican convention,” he said. “The Justice Department’s own guidelines demand that Attorney General Sessions remove himself from this matter immediately.”

Sessions represented Alabama in the Senate for more than two decades before being confirmed as attorney general earlier this month. White House strategist Stephen Bannon has called him “the clearinghouse for policy and philosophy” in the Trump administration, and “the fiercest, most dedicated, and most loyal promoter in Congress of Trump’s agenda.”

The Justice Department’s ethical guidelines say “no DOJ employee may participate in a criminal investigation or prosecution if he has a personal or political relationship with any person or organization substantially involved in the conduct that is the subject of the investigation or prosecution, or who would be directly affected by the outcome.”

While the guidelines seem to fit Sessions’ situation like a glove, the New York Times reports today that the attorney general is sticking by his refusal to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. Mr. Sessions told senators last month that he was “not aware of a basis to recuse myself.”

Richard Ben-Veniste, a Democratic lawyer who worked on the Watergate special counsel’s investigation in the 1970s, told The Times that Sessions should recuse himself or seek formal guidance from the Justice Department’s ethics office if additional evidence emerges of links between the Russian government and the White House.

“This is a dangerous area, and one where the attorney general ought to proceed with caution,” Ben-Veniste said. Any suggestion that Sessions was allowing politics to taint the investigation “would be a tremendous blow to his credibility.”