Nicholas Kamm | AFP | Getty Images
Attorney General Jeff Sessions answers questions during a press conference at the US Justice Department on March 2, 2017, in Washington DC.
Sessions has faced increasing pressure after a Washington Post report that he met twice with Kislyak before the 2016 presidential election. The report sparked questions about whether he contradicted his testimony to the Senate and prompted bipartisan calls for recusal from Russia-related probes. The top Democrats in both the Senate and House urged Sessions to resign.
Sessions oversees the Justice Department and FBI, which have led investigations into alleged Russian meddling in the election and any links between Russia and Trump associates. Sessions’ recusal will put a deputy in charge of the investigations that relate to the Trump campaign, but it is not entirely clear how broad that recusal will be.
Asked about possible Trump campaign contacts with Russia during his January confirmation hearing, Sessions said he had “been called a surrogate a time or two in that campaign.” He said he “did not have communications with the Russians” and was unable to comment on alleged contacts between Trump campaign officials and Russian officials.
On Thursday, Sessions said “it’s possible” that he met with Kislyak beyond the two times he acknowledged but is not sure. He added that he does not believe he met with any other Russian officials.
Trump said Thursday that he has “total” confidence in Sessions as the top U.S. law enforcement official. Trump told pool reporters in Virginia that he thought Sessions “probably” testified truthfully about the issue during his confirmation hearing. Trump previously said he did not think the attorney general should recuse himself from any Russia-related investigations, which some lawmakers on both sides of the aisle urged.
Trump joined House Speaker Paul Ryan and many Republicans in saying Sessions should not distance himself from Russia-linked investigations outright. A Democratic member of the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, told MSNBC on Thursday that “recusal is a good step” but “it has to be broader than the campaign.”
After Sessions’ remarks, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi accused him of making a “sorry attempt to explain away his perjury.” She again called on him to “resign immediately.”
Trump has also defended former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, whose resignation was sparked by contradictions to top White House officials about his conversations with the same Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak.
Ryan noted that the House and Senate intelligence committees are still investigating the extent of Russia’s influence in the 2016 presidential election and argued the probes are best served staying within the committees.
He added that lawmakers have seen “no evidence” to determine that associates of the Trump campaign colluded with Russian officials.