Some congressional Republicans were quick to agree Thursday with Democrats calling for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election, following leaks and media reports that Sessions met with Moscow’s ambassador twice last year.
The allegations, leaked from intelligence sources, were first reported by The Washington Post.
“The underlying meeting is a nothing burger.”
“I have not met with any Russians at any time to discuss any political campaign,” Sessions said Wednesday evening when confronted with the allegations. “And those remarks are unbelievable to me and are false. I don’t have anything else to say about that.”
A Sessions spokesperson elaborated on why Sessions had been truthful.
“He was asked during the hearing about communications between Russia and the Trump campaign — not about meetings he took as a senator and a member of the Armed Services Committee,” Sessions spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores explained.
In January, Sessions was asked by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) for answers to written questions, including if he had “been in contact with anyone connected to any part of the Russian government about the 2016 election, either before or after Election Day?” The attorney general was not asked if he had been in contact with anyone connected to any part of the Russian government for any reason during the entire course of the year.
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Nevertheless, a number of Republicans were quick to give in to the media narrative.
During a town hall with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on CNN Wednesday evening, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) said that if Sessions had spoken with the Russian ambassador, “then for sure you need a special prosecutor.”
Graham did later call demands for Sessions’ resignation “crazy” in a series of Thursday tweets, but added “Sessions needs to explain his contacts with the Russian ambassador during his service as a Senator – that’s appropriate.”
“AG Sessions should clarify his testimony and recuse himself,” House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) tweeted early on Thursday.
“I think, the trust of the American people, you recuse yourself in these situations,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Thursday morning.
McCarthy, in a later appearance on Fox News’ “Fox & Friends” backtracked and said he wasn’t calling on Sessions to recuse himself.
“I’m not calling on [Sessions] to recuse himself,” McCarthy said. “It’s amazing how people spin things so quickly.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) joined in during an appearance on NPR on Thursday morning. “It is potentially the case that there is going to be Justice Department recommendations or referrals based on anything regarding the campaign, he said. “Depending on what more we learn about these meetings, it could very well be that the attorney general, in the interest of fairness and in his best interest, should potentially ask someone else to step in and play that role.”
During a CNN town hall on Wednesday night, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Sessions couldn’t be trusted to investigate the Trump administration.
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“If there is something there and it goes up the chain of investigation, it is clear to me that Jeff Sessions, who is my dear friend, cannot make that decision about Trump,” said Graham.
Not every Republican declined to defend Sessions, however.
“What we are seeing is a lot of political theater,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said on “Morning Joe.”
“This morning, everyone is in high dudgeon about the meeting,” Cruz continued. “The underlying meeting is a nothing burger. It’s what senators do every day. Meeting with foreign ambassadors, that’s part of the job,” he said.
“I think everyone is getting all worked up because it’s a chance to beat up the attorney general and to beat up the president,” said Cruz.
Trump said he had “total” confidence in Sessions during a brief gaggle with reporters aboard Air Force One Thursday.