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AG Sessions to recuse himself from Russia investigation after senators called for it

Gage Skidmore | Flickr
Republican U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt and Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill want more investigation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions' communications with Russia.

Updated 3:20 p.m. March 2 — U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself from any Justice Department investigations into Russian interference in the presidential election. 

Sessions faced mounting pressure from both Democrats, including Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, and Republicans to step aside after revelations that he had twice talked with Moscow's U.S. envoy during the presidential campaign. Sessions' conversations with the ambassador seem to contradict his sworn statements to Congress during his confirmation hearings. 

 The Justice Department said there was nothing improper about the meetings. Sessions insisted he never met with Russian officials to discuss the campaign. 
Original story is below:

Missouri’s U.S. senators have weighed in on the latest disclosures about new U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who is accused of lying under oath about his contacts with Russian diplomats.

Republican U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt said Thursday that he’s going to CIA headquarters by next week to examine any evidence regarding Session’s revelation that he twice talked with Moscow’s U.S. enjoy during then-candidate Donald Trump’s campaign, for which Sessions was a consultant.

Blunt sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which already is conducting an investigation.

Top Democrats, including U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, are demanding that Sessions resign after the revelation that he had twice talked with Moscow's U.S. envoy during the campaign. McCaskill said he “misled the Senate,” and later clarified she meant his private conversations, not group meetings with several senators.

That distinction comes as three GOP groups — the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, the Senate Leadership Fund and America Rising — criticized McCaskill on Thursday over her tweet that said she’d never had a meeting or call with the Russian ambassador during her 10 years on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Those three groups are circulating a photo, for which the date and specific meeting are unclear, that shows McCaskill, Blunt and several other members of Congress meeting with the Russian ambassador.

It’s unclear when the photo was taken, but likely during the years when Blunt also served on the Armed Services Committee.  

“McCaskill is either lying to everyone or she forgot about those meetings,” the Leadership Fund said in a statement. “Whichever it is, she’s definitely the wrong messenger on this issue.” McCaskill says the photo came from a meeting with the Russians about international adoptions.

McCaskill spokesman John LaBombard said the issue with Sessions, the former senator from Alabama, is private meetings, not public ones.

"Attorney General Sessions met one-on-one with the Russian ambassador in the midst of a Russian cyber campaign against the U.S., and then misled the Judiciary Committee under oath about that meeting,” the LaBombard said. “He then tried to excuse it by saying it was part of the normal course of his Armed Services Committee work.”

Blunt said in a statement that the issue should be what is considered reasonable contact between Sessions and the Russians, and what was not.

“I know and have worked with Attorney General Sessions. He has said he had no discussions with Russian officials regarding the election, and I take him at his word,” Blunt said. “Part of the job of a United States senator involves talking to the ambassadors of countries. I’ve talked to at least 20 ambassadors in the last six weeks. It would have been very normal for Sessions, as a senator, to have talked to the Russian ambassador without discussing the election.”

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Sessions was "100 percent straight" about his contacts with Russia during his Senate confirmation hearings, and Trump later said he has "total" confidence in Sessions.

Blunt also emphasized that he opposed the idea of another Senate committee taking over any probe into Sessions, who leads the Justice Department.

“The Senate Intelligence Committee is the best place to determine the facts regarding Russian involvement in our elections,” the senator said. “Certainly the Russian government’s pattern in recent Eastern European elections continues today in France and Germany. Finding out exactly what the Russian government did or assisted in during our elections can help protect the democratic process in other countries as well as ours.”

Illinois' senators have their say

Illinois’ senior U.S. senator, Democrat Dick Durbin, said in a statement that he again called for Sessions to recuse himself from the investigation. 

"This is a national security crisis and we cannot afford to allow this process to be compromised further — we need an independent commission to investigate right now," Durbin said.

Illinois Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth said Thursday in a statement that, at minimum, Sessions needs to stay out of any FBI or Justice Department probes into alleged ties between the Trump administration and Russia.

“Today’s reports also crystallize that Attorney General Sessions cannot impartially investigate this administration’s ties with Russia; he must recuse himself immediately to ensure a fair investigation,” she said. “If he refuses to do so or if we learn he lied under oath, the American people deserve nothing less than his resignation.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Follow Jo on Twitter: @jmannies

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