Monday 24 April 2017

Donald Trump backs attorney general amid Russia probe calls

Jeff Sessions was an early supporter of President Donald Trump and a policy adviser to the Republican candidate (AP)
Jeff Sessions was an early supporter of President Donald Trump and a policy adviser to the Republican candidate (AP)
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

US President Donald Trump says he has "total" confidence in Jeff Sessions as calls mount for the attorney general to resign or recuse himself over his contact with a Russian envoy.

Mr Trump made the comment in Newport News on Thursday. Asked if Mr Sessions should recuse himself, he said "I don't think so."

Democrats are demanding that Mr Sessions resign after the revelation he had twice talked with Moscow's envoy to the US during the campaign.

Mr Sessions's conversations with the ambassador seem to contradict his sworn statements to Congress during his confirmation hearings.

Some Republicans are joining Democrats in calling on Mr Sessions to step aside from a federal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 White House election.

Top Democrats have demanded that Mr Sessions go further than merely stepping aside from any investigations and have called on him to resign.

Mr Sessions's conversations with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak seem to contradict his sworn statements to Congress during his confirmation hearings.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi accused Mr Sessions of "lying under oath" and she and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said he should depart.

Mr Schumer said the Justice Department should appoint a special prosecutor to examine whether the federal investigation into the Kremlin's meddling in the US election has been compromised by Mr Sessions.

Mr Sessions told MSNBC on Thursday: "I have said that, when it's appropriate, I will recuse myself."

While there is nothing unusual or necessarily nefarious about a member of Congress meeting with a foreign ambassador, senators from the Foreign Relations Committee typically meet with ambassadors rather than lawmakers from the Armed Services Committee, whose responsibility is oversight of the military and the Pentagon.

Congressional contact with Russian officials was limited for much of last year because of Russia's invasion of Crimea and Moscow's close relationship with Syria, a pariah for much of the west.

At least three House Republicans - representatives Jason Chaffetz of Utah, Darrell Issa of California and Tom Cole of Oklahoma - have said they want Mr Sessions to withdraw from investigation of campaign contacts with the Russians.

GOP Senator Rob Portman of Ohio said that while Mr Sessions was a former colleague and a friend, "I think it would be best for him and for the country to recuse himself".

House Speaker Paul Ryan said Mr Sessions should only recuse himself if he is a subject of the probe.

Mr Sessions, an early supporter of Mr Trump's candidacy and a policy adviser during the campaign, was asked during his confirmation hearing in January what he would do if "anyone affiliated" with the campaign had been in contact with officials of the Russian government.

Mr Sessions replied he had not had communications with the Russians and answered "no" in a separate written questionnaire when asked about contacts regarding the election.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders called the disclosure of the talks with Mr Kislyak "the latest attack against the Trump administration by partisan Democrats".

She said Mr Sessions "met with the ambassador in an official capacity as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is entirely consistent with his testimony".

Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, said he did not know about the meetings but it was normal for Russian diplomats to meet with US lawmakers.

Press Association

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