President Donald Trump on Thursday said he has “total” confidence in his recently appointed attorney general, who has come under fire after it was learned he may have lied under oath when asked by members of Congress if he had any contact with Russian officials during the 2016 presidential election.
When asked if Attorney General Jeff Sessions should recuse himself from the investigation he’s heading into the Trump administration’s ties to Russia, Trump said, “I don’t think so.”
The president, during a tour of the aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford’s command center in Newport News, Va., told reporters he “wasn’t aware at all” that Sessions spoke to Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
When asked if Sessions testified truthfully to the Senate, Trump responded, “I think he probably did.”
The Washington Post broke the story Wednesday, reporting Sessions had, in fact, spoke with Russian officials twice last year, according to the Justice Department.
One of the meetings was a private conversation between Sessions and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak that took place in September in the senator’s office, at the height of what U.S. intelligence officials say was a Russian cyber campaign to upend the U.S. presidential race.
The previously undisclosed discussions could fuel new congressional calls for the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Russia’s alleged role in the 2016 presidential election. As attorney general, Sessions oversees the Justice Department and the FBI, which have been leading investigations into Russian meddling and any links to Trump’s associates. He has so far resisted calls to recuse himself.
Sessions maintains he did nothing wrong, calling the allegations “false,” meanwhile lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are calling for the attorney general to recuse himself from the Russia-Trump administration investigation.
Sessions’ spokeswoman, Sarah Flores clarified the attorney general’s position, saying, “He was asked during the hearing about communications betweenRussia and the Trump campaign — not about meetings he took as a senator and a member of the Armed Services Committee.”
On Jan. 10, then-Sen. Sessions was questioned by Democratic Sen. Al Franken during the nominee’s confirmation hearing.
“Sen. Franken, I’m not aware of any of those activities. I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians and I’m not able to comment on it,” Sessions said.
The news comes after Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn, stepped down after it was learned he lied to the vice president about discussions he had with the same Russian ambassador regarding the lifting of U.S. sanctions against the Kremlin.
The concern over the executive branch’s unilateral lifting of sanctions prompted three Democratic lawmakers to introduce a bill in theHouse last month requiring congressional approval before doing so.
Trump said he wasn’t lifting economic restrictions on the Kremlin, after the Treasury Department early last month adjusted sanctions (pdf) placed on FSB, the Russian intelligence agency, put in place by President Obama in 2015 by executive order for “engaging in significant malicious cyber-enabled activities.”
The sanction adjustments allow for the import of U.S.-made information technology products into Russia.
The White House later clarified the adjustments were “routine.”