United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions attempted to defuse the controversy surrounding his communication with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak by announcing a decision to recuse himself from any investigation into whether the Russian government played a role in President Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 election.
The New York Times reported that Sessions made the announcement on Thursday, with the attorney general claiming that he consulted his staff and agreed with their recommendation that he should recuse himself to prevent any appearance of a conflict of interest because he had been an early endorser of Donald Trump‘s campaign. The decision comes as senators from both parties spent Thursday calling for Sessions to recuse himself to ensure an honest investigation of the election.
Jeff Sessions came under fire on Wednesday when The Washington Post reported that Sessions had met twice with Kislyak in 2016, which directly contradicted his testimony during his attorney general hearing that he had not had communications with the Russian ambassador in 2016. This marks the second time a Trump cabinet selection has come under fire for meeting with Kislyak, following former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who resigned when it came to light that he had been dealing with Kislyak after Trump’s election but before Trump was sworn in as president, an illegal action for a private citizen.
Unlike Flynn, Sessions would have been well within his rights to meet with the Russian ambassador as both a sitting senator and a member of the Senate’s Armed Services Committee. That was the case that Sessions’ former colleague and close friend Ted Cruz (R-Texas) made on Thursday on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, pointing out that he also regularly meets with ambassadors from other nations as part of his senatorial duties.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) confirmed that point during a press conference, but said that Jeff Sessions’ issues stemmed not from meeting with Kislyak, but from claiming that he had not met with Kislyak when asked about it during his confirmation hearings to become attorney general. Schumer called on Sessions to resign his post as attorney general, a request that several Democrats backed. Republicans, on the other hand, either stopped at calling for Sessions’ recusal or took a firm stance behind the former Alabama senator and suggested that recusal was not necessary.
The White House predictably took the latter tactic, as Trump stood firmly behind Jeff Sessions, denied any need for recusal and proclaimed total confidence in his attorney general. Some of Sessions’ more moderate former Republican colleagues, however, felt his eventual action was the correct one. Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) both said early in the day that recusal would be necessary, while Sen. Lindsey Graham praised Sessions’ decision on his Facebook page and simultaneously condemned Democrat calls for his resignation.
Readers, do you think recusal was the right call for Sessions to make? Should he have considered resignation? Or should he have held firm and denied a need for recusal? Sound off in the comments below!
By Dan Angell