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GOP calls for Sessions to recuse himself from Russia probe; Dems want him to resign

In this Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017, file photo, Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks at the National Association of Attorneys General annual winter meeting in Washington. (Alex Brandon / Associated Press)
In this Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017, file photo, Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks at the National Association of Attorneys General annual winter meeting in Washington. (Alex Brandon / Associated Press)
By Matthew Schofield Tribune News Service

WASHINGTON – The Russian influence scandal that’s been swirling around the recent election and the campaign of President Donald Trump moved to a new dimension Thursday after revelations that the attorney general both met with a Russian ambassador last autumn, and then appeared to lie to Congress about that meeting.

The news had even Republicans saying he now needed to recuse himself from any investigation in Russian influence. Democrats were insisting that Attorney General Jeff Sessions should immediately resign from his position.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, tweeted that “AG Sessions should clarify his testimony and recuse himself.”

Sessions, previously a Republican senator from Alabama, has said that during his Senate confirmation testimony, he did not mention two meetings with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak because they took place as part of his duties on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and not on behalf of the Trump campaign. In that hearing, he said: “I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians.”

Kislyak is the same ambassador whose contact with former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, and Flynn’s lies about that contact to Vice President Mike Pence, led to Flynn’s resignation.

A longtime colleague of Sessions reacted to the news Thursday morning by saying such meetings would be unusual for a member of their committee. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said in a statement: “It’s clear Attorney General Sessions misled the Senate – the question is, why? I’ve been on the Senate Armed Services Committee for 10 years, and in that time, have had no call from, or meeting with, the Russian ambassador. Ever. That’s because ambassadors call members of Foreign Relations Committee. Attorney General Sessions should resign.”

McCaskill, who is also a former Jackson County Prosecutor in Missouri, also said Sessions’ defense of his sworn testimony during the confirmation hearing, that he didn’t mention the meetings because they took place in his role as a senator, rang hollow. “A good prosecutor would have known these facts were relevant to the questions asked.”

House Democrat leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Cal., was adamant that Sessions had broken trust with Congress.

She tweeted: “We are far past recusal. Anything less than resignation or removal from office is unacceptable.”

Others have made the point that Sessions testimony was under oath, and if it is determined that he did lie, he could face perjury charges.

With each new bit of news in the case of possible Russian influence in the campaign of President Donald Trump, Democrats have increased the volume on calling for a special prosecutor, insisting as Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, said during a press conference Wednesday about a previous revelation, “it is going to be quite hard to convince the public you are going to get an impartial process.”

But this news changed expectations. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said that recusal is now “not even a close call; it is a must.”

Rep. Joe Crowley, D-N.Y., called Sessions testimony on the matter a lie, and added they “proved he’s ill-fit to serve and should immediately resign.”

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