Defending his answers to the Senate Judiciary Committee about his contacts with Russian officials, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Thursday that he would recuse himself from any investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections.
"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," Sessions announced in a news conference at the Justice Department.
"I feel like I should not be involved in investigating a campaign that I had a role in," Sessions told reporters, explaining that his top aides had recommended this course.
Sessions argued his answers to Congress were "honest and correct" about his meeting with the Russian Ambassador, but said he would further explain himself in a letter to Senators.
"I never had meetings with Russian operatives or Russian intermediaries about the Trump campaign," the Attorney General said at the outset of his news conference.
On Capitol Hill, Sessions had endured a full day of slings and arrows about his answers at his confirmation hearings, where he said, "I did not have communications with the Russians."
"My reply to Senator Franken was honest and correct, as I understood it at the time," Sessions explained.
Some Republicans argued that Sessions did not mislead the Senate Judiciary Committee - but Democrats pointed to a written answer that he gave to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), in which he flatly denied any contacts at all.
The announcement that Sessions would not be involved in any Russia probe did not satisfy his critics, who wanted more.
"Attorney General Sessions’ narrow recusal and his sorry attempt to explain away his perjury are totally inadequate," said House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi.
"He must resign immediately," Pelosi said flatly.
Other Democrats also wanted more.
"Recusal is not enough," said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR). "Special Counsel at the bare minimum."
"Special prosecutor needed, as well as Independent Commission to investigate Russia ties," added Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR).
Asked what he and the Russian Ambassador had discussed, Sessions said it was a lively discussion at times.
"I do remember saying I had gone to Russia with a church group in 1991, and he said he was not a believer himself," the Attorney General told reporters.
"I thought he was pretty much of an old style Soviet type," Sessions added.
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