In a brief press conference, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that he would recuse himself from “any matters arising from the campaigns for President of the United States.”
“Let me be clear,” said the attorney general in his opening remarks. “I never had meetings with Russian operatives or Russian intermediaries about the Trump campaign, 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.”
Sessions added that he did not refer to the two meetings between Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during his confirmation process, one of which had two of his chief staffers present. Yet, he asserted that his answer to Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) was honest and correct. Nevertheless, the attorney general will write a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee either today or tomorrow clarifying this aspect of his testimony.
He later said that if there were a specific matter where his impartiality would be questioned, he would consult the Department of Justice’s ethics officials on how to proceed. That meeting on what to do going forward was held today, as Congress sets in motion inquiries into possible contact between the Trump campaign and the Russians during the 2016 cycle. In this meeting, which he said was set on Monday, he, along with senior officials, looked at the issues at stake and asked for their candid opinion. His staff recommended recusal, which he believed was the right course of action.
Full press conference is below:
[Begins at five-minute mark]
NEW: Sessions will recuse pic.twitter.com/W3bq7OE9wN— Betsy Woodruff (@woodruffbets) March 2, 2017
“During the course of the confirmation proceedings on my nomination to be Attorney General, I advised the Senate Judiciary Committee that ‘[i]f a specific matter arose where I believed my impartiality might reasonably be questioned, I would consult with Department ethics officials regarding the most appropriate way to proceed.’
“During the course of the last several weeks, I have met with the relevant senior career Department officials to discuss whether I should recuse myself from any matters arising from the campaigns for President of the United States.
“Having concluded those meetings today, 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.
“I have taken no actions regarding any such matters, to the extent they exist.
“This announcement should not be interpreted as confirmation of the existence of any investigation or suggestive of the scope of any such investigation.
“Consistent with the succession order for the Department of Justice, Acting Deputy Attorney General and U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia Dane Boente shall act as and perform the functions of the Attorney General with respect to any matters from which I have recused myself to the extent they exist.”
This is the Franken exchange in question [emphasis mine]:
Sen. Sessions said in confirmation hearing he didn't "have comms with the Russians." But WaPo reports he met twice with Russian ambassador? pic.twitter.com/CbsHR5WYdy— T. Becket Adams (@BecketAdams) March 2, 2017
SEN. AL FRANKEN (D-MN): CNN just published a story alleging that the intelligence community provided documents to the president-elect last week, that included information that “Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump.” These documents also allegedly say “there was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government.” Again, I’m telling you this as it’s coming out, so, you know.
But if it’s true, it’s obviously extremely serious, and 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?
JEFF SESSIONS: Senator Franken, I’m not aware of any of those activities. 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.
FRANKEN: Very well.