Attorney General Jeff Sessions held a press conference Thursday amid a firestorm over his contacts with Russian officials during the 2016 election, standing firm on the answers he gave during his Senate confirmation hearing.
Before the press conference, Sessions released a statement saying he would recuse himself from any future investigations “of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for President of the United States.”
The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that the FBI opened an inquiry into contacts Sessions may have had with Russian officials in the spring and summer of last year.
It was part of a wide-ranging investigation into possible contacts between President Donald Trump’s associates and Russian operatives. It is unclear whether Sessions’ contact is still being examined.
Sessions denied during his confirmation hearing that he had ever communicated with any Russian officials while he was a top Trump campaign surrogate.
During his press conference, Sessions emphasised that he didn’t meet with Russian operatives about the Trump campaign during the election.
“Let me be clear — I never had meeting with Russian operatives or Russian intermediaries about the Trump campaign,” he said. “And the idea that I was part of a ‘continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government’ is totally false.”
During his Senate confirmation hearing, Sessions, in answering an unrelated question from Sen. Al Franken, said he did not have any communications with “the Russians.” Franken did not ask Sessions whether he specifically spoke with Russian operatives, but rather asked about Trump campaign contacts with Russians generally.
“If there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign, what will you do?” Franken asked.
“Sen. Franken, I’m not aware of any of those activities,” Sessions responded. “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 unable to comment on it.”
Sessions said during his press conference that his response to Franken’s question was accurate.
“That is the question that Sen. Franken asked me at the hearing, and that’s what got my attention, as he noted, it was the first just breaking news and it got my attention and that is the question I responded to,” he said. “I did not respond to the two meetings, one very brief as a speech … where no such things were discussed. My reply to the question of Sen. Franken was honest and correct as I understood it at the time.”
The Wednesday reports indicated that he met with Russia’s ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak, at least twice last year — once at an event timed to the Republican National Convention and again in September. There are conflicting reports about whether the September conversation happened in Sessions’ office or by phone.
Sessions said during his press conference that he didn’t remember much of what was discussed during the meeting in his office with the Russian ambassador, but said they discussed terrorism and Ukraine.
“I don’t recall, but most of these ambassadors are pretty gossipy, and this was during the campaign sesson, but I don’t recall any specific political discussions,” Sessions said.
A number of Democratic politicians called for Sessions while others, including prominent Republicans, have called for him to recuse himself from any investigation involving Trump’s ties to Russia or the country’s influence in the 2016 presidential election.
You can watch the press conference at the Justice Department’s website.
Natasha Bertrand and Allan Smith contributed to this report.
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