WASHINGTON – U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said for the first time that he’ll recuse himself if necessary from investigations into contacts that associates of President Donald Trump may have had with Russian government officials.
“I would recuse myself on anything that I should recuse myself on,” Sessions told reporters Monday at the Justice Department in Washington. “That’s all I can tell you.”
During the Senate confirmation process to serve as the top U.S. law enforcement officer, Sessions had declined to say whether he would remove himself from involvement in any probe. Since becoming attorney general, however, calls have mounted among Democratic lawmakers for Sessions to step aside from the investigations because he was a staunch supporter throughout Trump’s presidential campaign.
Intelligence agencies – including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which reports to Sessions – are pursuing their finding that Russia was behind hacking and the release of Democratic Party emails during last year’s campaign in an effort to help Trump. Now, inquiries are being made into whether those around Trump had contacts with Russian officials or representatives. While some Democrats have called for Sessions to appoint a special prosecutor, Trump indicated Monday that wasn’t necessary.
Trump and his aides have denied there were any unusual contacts with the Russian government during the campaign.
Sessions said Monday that he wasn’t aware that FBI Director James Comey and FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe had contact with White House chief of staff Reince Priebus about a New York Times report contending that those around Trump had contacts with Russian intelligence officials.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters Monday that McCabe had told Priebus “that the report in The New York Times was, quote, B.S.” Asked if the FBI would say that publicly, Spicer said, “They went back and forth to see what they thought was appropriate” and “finally came to the conclusion that they did not want to get in the process of knocking down every story that they had issues with. ”
In the meeting with reporters, Sessions said: “The FBI and the Department of Justice have to remain independent and they will do so.
“Every contact is not improper,” he added. “I have not examined those in detail.”
Sessions also said he plans to “reinvigorate” the Justice Department’s prosecution of crimes, including criminals using guns and the distribution and recreational use of marijuana.
“Experts are telling me there’s more violence around marijuana than one would think,” Sessions said.
Cannabis is legal for recreational adult use in eight states, including Washington state, as well as Washington, D.C. California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada all voted to legalize the drug in November. Medical use is allowed in 28 states. Legalized cannabis was a $6 billion industry in 2016 and is estimated to reach $50 billion by 2026, according to Cowen & Co.
“I do believe the Department of Justice is the leading advocate for law enforcement in America,” Sessions said. “I hope to be able to fulfill my responsibilities in that regard.”
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