Attorney General Jeff Sessions said on Thursday that he will recuse himself from an investigation into any ties between President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia, amid revelations that Sessions met twice with Russia’s ambassador to the United States before the election.
“I have recused myself in the matters that deal with the Trump campaign,” Sessions told reporters at a press conference.
“My staff recommended recusal,” he said. “I believe those recommendations are right and just.”
Sessions did not confirm that there is an investigation into contacts between Trump’s aides and Russia. He referred instead to “certain investigations.”
“This announcement should not be interpreted as confirmation of the existence of any investigation or suggestive of the scope of any such investigation, because we in the Department of Justice resist confirming or denying the very existence of investigations,” he said. “So in the end, I have followed the right procedure.”
In January, Sessions denied to the Senate Judiciary Committee that he had any “communications with Russians.” On Thursday, however, Sessions’ spokeswoman confirmed that Sessions met with Kislyak twice before the election.
Sessions said on Thursday that during his meeting with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak on Sep. 8 “somehow the subject of the Ukraine came up” and the conversation became “testy.”
“He said something about inviting me to have lunch,” he said. “I did not accept that.”
“Most of these ambassadors are pretty gossipy,” Sessions said. “I don’t recall any specific political discussions.”
He said that he did not “recall” having met Kislyak at any other time, but that it was “possible.”
“I’m on the Armed Services committee,” he said, referring to the Senate committee. “Things happen.”
“Have you met with any other Russian officials or folks connected to the Russian government since you endorsed Donald Trump?” a reporter asked.
“I don’t believe so,” Sessions said.
“Did you consult with the White House about your decision?” another reporter asked.
“I did share with White House counsel, or my staff has, that I intended to recuse myself this afternoon,” Sessions said. “But I feel like — because they didn’t — they don’t know the rules, the ethics rules. Most people don’t.”
Sessions said that during his confirmation hearing he was “taken aback” by allegations that Trump surrogates had met with Russian officials.
“That’s what I focused my answer on,” he said. “In retrospect, I should have slowed down and said, but I did meet one Russian official a couple of times.”
NEW: Sessions will recuse pic.twitter.com/W3bq7OE9wN
— Betsy Woodruff (@woodruffbets) March 2, 2017
In the wake of the revelations on Wednesday, Democrats reiterated their calls for an independent investigation into any ties between the Trump campaign and Russia and began to call for Sessions to resign as attorney general.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer said on Thursday that there was no reason for Sessions to recuse himself from the investigation.
Trump also said that he still has “total” confidence in Sessions.
Asked if he thought Sessions should recuse himself from the investigation, Trump said: “I don’t think so at all.”