Wednesday 28 June 2017

Explained: The US attorney general, the Russian ambassador, and the latest scandal to engulf Donald Trump

A mural depicting Vladimir Putin taking off a Donald Trump mask on a storefront in Brooklyn, New York Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images
A mural depicting Vladimir Putin taking off a Donald Trump mask on a storefront in Brooklyn, New York Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Amy Molloy

Amy Molloy

THE investigation into Russia's alleged meddling in the 2016 presidential election took another turn on Thursday when US Attorney General Jeff Sessions stepped aside.

His action followed revelations he met with the Russian ambassador on two occasions - but didn't say so when pressed by Congress.

Details of his meetings with Sergey Kislyak first emerged after the Washington Post revealed Mr Sessions had met with Mr Kislyak - once in July and also in the former senator's office in September.

Donald Trump has declared he has "total confidence" in Mr Sessions despite his decision to remove himself from ongoing invesigations.

Here are five things you need to know about the saga:

1. Why has he stepped aside?

Jeff Sessions testifies during his confirmation hearing in the Senate Picture: AFP/Getty
Jeff Sessions testifies during his confirmation hearing in the Senate Picture: AFP/Getty

While he claims he did nothing wrong, Mr Sessions says he should not be involved in the ongoing investigations as he participated in the election campaign.

His advisers in the department of justice also said he should remove himself from the FBI's investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and Moscow due to ethical reasons.

The attorney general said he should have made it clear that he met with the Russian official "a couple of times".

However, he rejected suggestions that he lied under oath. "That is not my intent," he said. "That is not correct".

2. What does Trump have to say about all this?

While Trump accepts Mr Sessions could have stated details of his meetings with the Russian ambassador "more clearly," he says it was not intentional and offered his full support.

He accused Democrats of conducting a "witch hunt" in their criticism of his attorney general.

When asked if Mr Sessions should recuse himself from the investigation, he responded: "I don't think so".

He also denied any knowledge of Mr Sessions' contacts with the Russian envoy.

3. What are the democrats saying?

The Democrats are calling for a criminal perjury investigation and are accusing Mr Sessions of lying under oath.

They are also calling for a federal investigation into the Kremlin's meddling in the US election - and into possible contacts Trump associates and Russians.

They believe Mr Sessions should not only recuse himself, but also resign from his role as attorney general.

4. Is it unusual for member of Congress to meet with a foreign ambassador?

No, it is not unusual. However, they do not usually meet Armed Services Committee lawmakers whose responsibility is the oversight of military and the Pengtagon.

5. What happens next?

The Justice Department will look into the matter further. However, they maintain there was nothing improper about Mr Sessions' contacts or his answers to Congress.

Mr Trump has been trailed for months by questions about potential ties to Russia - with the investigations to continue long into the future.

He vigorously denies being away of any contacts his associates and with Russia during the campaign and has also insisted he has no financial ties to Russia.

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