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'No need to step down'? US Attorney General Jeff Sessions has stood down from the Russia/Trump inquiry

Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in the Senate, had earlier called for Jeff Sessions to resign, something the Attorney General has stopped short of doing.

sessions Jeff Sessions speaking at this evening's press conference

Updated 9:22pm

US ATTORNEY GENERAL Jeff Sessions has recused himself from inquiries into US president Donald Trump’s dealings with Russia.

Sessions made the announcement at a press conference this evening.

Pressure had been growing on Sessions throughout the day to clarify why he had failed to divulge the fact that he had twice met the Russian ambassador to the US during Trump’s campaign to a Senate committee.

Earlier the attorney general had come under fire after the Washington Post reported he met twice last year with Russia’s ambassador to Washington, seemingly contradicting statements he made in Senate confirmation hearings in January.

Sessions this evening insisted he had done nothing wrong in giving testimony to Congress, and said that accusations he had met with ‘Russian operatives’ were “totally false”.

He said he had decided to recuse himself in order to avoid what his staff had pointed out could amount to a conflict of interest.

The earlier revelation that Sessions had met with ambassador Sergey Kislyak twice, after telling Congress he had no dealings with Russia during Trump’s campaign, cast a fresh cloud over President Donald Trump’s administration – which has repeatedly denied any suspected ties between members of the Republican’s election campaign and Russia, which US intelligence says interfered in the 2016 election against Trump’s rival Hillary Clinton.

Despite this, Trump this evening had declared that Sessions has his “total” confidence.

Earlier, House Speaker Paul Ryan said that he saw no reason for Sessions to step down yet, saying that lawmakers had seen “no evidence” to determine that collusion had occurred between Trump’s campaign and Russian officials.

He said: “If he himself is a subject of an investigation, of course he should [step down]. But if he’s not, I don’t see any purpose or reason for doing this.”

The White House had quickly labeled the report an attack by partisan Democrats, confirming the meetings but arguing Sessions did nothing wrong.

In a statement Session said: “I never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign. I have no idea what this allegation is about. It is false.”

But with US intelligence agencies, the Department of Justice, and four Congressional committees examining the Russia scandal, Democrats demanded Sessions — the Trump administration’s top law enforcement official — recuse himself from investigations, and for Congress to name an independent special investigator to oversee a broad probe.

“Given AG Sessions’ false statements about contacts with Russian officials, we need a special counsel to investigate Trump associates’ ties to Russia,” said Democrat Senator Ron Wyden, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

GOP 2016 Convention Jeff Sessions and Paul Ryan Source: Mark J. Terrill

The Washington Post reported that Sessions – formerly a senator who advised Trump’s campaign on foreign policy and other issues – met Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in July and September, just as accusations of Russian interference in the election were mounting.

Sessions, however, told his confirmation hearing at the Senate Judiciary Committee on January 10 that he did not know of contacts between Trump campaign members and Russia.

“I did not have communications with the Russians,” he said under oath.

His spokesperson told the Washington Post aid there was “absolutely nothing misleading” about his answer.

Calls to resign 

Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in the Senate, went further, calling for Sessions to step down.

“After lying under oath to Congress about his own communications with the Russian, the attorney general must resign,” she said.

Sessions was confirmed as attorney general on February 8, moving in place to oversee Justice Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation probes into the alleged communications between Trump campaign officials and Moscow.

Campaign 2016 Trump Hat Source: Matt York

The New York Times reported two weeks ago, citing US intelligence sources, that three campaign staff — including campaign chief Paul Manafort — had communicated with Russian intelligence officers.

The White House has labeled that report “false” and has accused Democrats, the media and the intelligence community of a political effort to undermine his six-week-old government.

A White House official, speaking not for attribution, reiterated those charges, dubbing the latest report an “attack.”

“This is the latest attack against the Trump administration by partisan Democrats,” the official said.

“Sessions met with the ambassador in an official capacity as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is entirely consistent with his testimony.”

© – AFP 2017 with reporting from Daragh Brophy, Sean Murray, and Cianan Brennan

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