President Donald Trump is praising his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, and accusing Democrats of conducting a “witch hunt” in their criticism of Sessions’ testimony about his contact with the Russian ambassador during the presidential campaign.
Jeff Sessions is an honest man. He did not say anything wrong. He could have stated his response more accurately, but it was clearly not....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 3, 2017
Trump says Democrats are trying to save face after losing the election, are overplaying their hand and have lost their grip on reality.
Sessions on Thursday recused himself from any investigation into Russian meddling in America’s 2016 presidential election. He acted after it was revealed that he twice spoke with the Russian ambassador during the campaign and failed to say so when pressed by Congress. Some Democrats are accusing him of lying and calling for him to step down.
However, Trump conceded that Sessions -- who failed to disclose recent contact with Russia’s ambassador to the United States during his confirmation hearing -- “could have stated his response more accurately, but it was clearly not intentional.”
- Focus on Russian diplomat -
Trump has come under increasing pressure over Russia’s interference in the election and alleged contacts between his entourage and Moscow.
According to officials, US intelligence agencies and the Federal Bureau of Investigation continue to investigate just how and how much Moscow intruded into US politics, and whether that effort -- which US intelligence chiefs say was directed by President Vladimir Putin -- involved collusion with the Trump campaign.
Four congressional committees have opened probes into the issue, although Democrats fear that Republicans will seek to bury their investigations to protect Trump’s young administration.
Two weeks ago, Trump’s newly appointed national security advisor Michael Flynn was forced to resign amid controversy over his discussions with Kislyak in late December, when the Obama administration was hitting Moscow with retaliatory sanctions and expulsions for its election interference.
On Thursday, The New York Times reported that Flynn had also met the diplomat in Trump Tower in December, with Trump son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner also in attendance.
While meetings between political campaigns and diplomats are generally common, on Thursday a Clinton spokesman said there were no meetings or calls between her team and any Russian official during the campaign.
- Sessions met Russian envoy twice -
Sessions’s own meetings with the envoy took place much earlier, in July and September, just as accusations of Russian interference in the election were mounting, according to The Washington Post.
However, Sessions had told his confirmation hearing in January that he “did not have communications with the Russians” and did not know of any by other campaign staff.
Sessions on Thursday clarified that his denial referred to contacts made on behalf of the campaign. He said he met Kislyak in his capacity as a senator, and discussed mainly global politics with him.
Nevertheless, after reviewing ethics rules for his office, he said: “I have decided to recuse myself from any existing or future investigations of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for president of the United States.”
Speaking to Fox News Wednesday evening, he reiterated that he did not discuss the campaign with Kislyak.
“When I campaigned for Trump, I was not involved with anything like that,” he said. “You can be sure.”
- Democrats press independent probe -
Despite the swirling controversy, few hard facts are publicly available on what US investigators know and suspect about the contacts and about Russia’s alleged operation to disrupt the election last year.
The New York Times reported two weeks ago, citing US intelligence sources, that three Trump campaign staff had communicated with Russian intelligence officers over the past year.
The White House labeled that report “false” and has accused Democrats, the media and the intelligence community of a political effort to undermine the Trump administration.
Trump’s White House has lobbied the FBI, reportedly the CIA and two Republicans who head committees leading investigations into Russia’s election meddling, to knock down media reports on the alleged links.
That added to Democrats’ worries that investigations could be tainted, and lawmakers were pressing for an independent counsel to be named to study the web of allegations about Trump and Russia free from political interference.