Should Jeff Sessions Recuse Himself from the Russia-Trump Investigation?
The Trump Administration’s connections to Russia have worried both Democrats and Republicans, with lawmakers from both parties calling for special prosecutors, committee investigations, and intelligence probes into the matter. Late Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, had met with Russia’s U.S. ambassador twice before–in July and September–despite denying any contacts with Russian officials in his confirmation hearing in January.
A bi-partisan chorus has been building over the past few weeks for the Justice Department to investigate the administration’s ties to Russian officials. Lawmakers’ concerns were amplified when former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn resigned last month after misleading the vice president about his contacts with the same ambassador Sessions met with, Sergey Kislyak. Sessions, the man who would lead a Justice Department investigation into Trump’s Russian contacts, might be embroiled in the investigation himself. Now lawmakers are calling on him to recuse himself or, like Flynn, step down completely.
A handful of prominent Republicans on Wednesday and early Thursday said a special prosecutor should investigate the Trump Administration’s contacts with Russia, instead of Sessions. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), the chairman of the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee, said Sessions should recuse himself:
AG Sessions should clarify his testimony and recuse himself
— Jason Chaffetz (@jasoninthehouse) March 2, 2017
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) initially echoed that sentiment, but hours later said he is “not calling on [Sessions] to recuse himself.” Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said it “would be best for [Sessions] and for the country” to recuse himself. And Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), during a CNN town hall Wednesday evening, also seemed to embrace the idea of a special prosecutor in lieu of Sessions. Graham said that “if there’s something there that the FBI thinks is criminal in nature, then for sure you need a special prosecutor.”
Of course, a senator is allowed to meet with Russian officials, and at the time Sessions met with Kislyak, he was a senator from Alabama. But Sessions denied having any contact with the Russians during the campaign (“I have no idea what this allegation is about,” he said in a statement), and during his hearing he swore under oath that he did not have contact with Russian officials. At worst, Sessions committed perjury, in which case he would certainly be forced to step down. And at best, he misled Congress, which many Democrats see as reason enough to resign.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said Sessions “is not fit to serve as the top law enforcement officer of our country and must resign.” Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) said Sessions should “resign immediately, and there is no longer any question that we need a truly independent commission to investigate this issue.” And Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), a vocal critic of Sessions when he was nominated as attorney general, said Sessions “should have never been confirmed in the first place,” and that he should resign. “We need it now,” she added.