Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Thursday he will recuse himself from any investigation into last year’s presidential campaign, following reports he met twice with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. while serving as a campaign surrogate for Donald Trump. The revelation directly contradicts Sessions’ sworn testimony to Congress in January that he did not meet with any Russian officials in the run-up to November’s election. In a hastily assembled news conference Thursday, Sessions called charges he lied under oath "totally false," and said he failed to mention the meetings with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak because the two did not discuss the campaign.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions: "I was taken aback a little bit about this brand-new information, this allegation that surrogates—and I had been called a surrogate for Donald Trump—had been meeting continuously with Russian officials. And that’s what struck me very hard, and that’s what I focused my answer on. And in retrospect, I should have slowed down and said, 'But I did meet one Russian official a couple of times. That would be the ambassador.' Thank you all. Take care."
Sessions’s decision to recuse himself came just hours after President Trump said calls for Sessions to resign amounted to a "total witch hunt." Trump was questioned by reporters while touring a naval warship Thursday.
Reporter: "Mr. President, do you still have confidence in the attorney general, sir?"
President Donald Trump: "Total."
Reporter: "Should Sessions recuse himself from investigations into your campaign and Russia?"
President Donald Trump: "I don’t think so at all. I don’t think so at all."
Reporter: "When did you first learn that Sessions spoke to the Russian ambassador? Did you know during the campaign?"
President Donald Trump: "I don’t think he should do that at all."
Reporter: "When were you aware that he spoke to the Russian ambassador?"
President Donald Trump: "I wasn’t aware at all."
Meanwhile, ABC News reported Thursday that Sessions used political funds from his senatorial re-election account to meet with Ambassador Kislyak on the sidelines of the Republican National Convention in July. There were growing calls Thursday for Sessions to resign and even to face prosecution. The ACLU demanded an investigation into whether Sessions committed perjury. And President George W. Bush’s former ethics lawyer, Richard Painter, said, "Misleading the Senate in sworn testimony about [one’s] own contacts with the Russians is a good way to go to jail." On Capitol Hill, a chorus of Democratic lawmakers called for Sessions to step down, while demands grew for a special prosecutor to investigate allegations that Russia interfered in the 2016 election on behalf of Donald Trump.