American attorney General Jeff Sessions has agreed to recuse himself from an investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
His action followed revelations he twice met with the Russian ambassador and didn’t say so when pressed by Congress.
But in a press conference held on Thursday afternoon Sessions rejected any suggestion that he tried to mislead anyone about his contacts with the Russian, saying, “That is not my intent. That is not correct.”
The attorney general said he made his decision after his staff recommended that he recuse himself from any investigation related to the Trump campaign, since he had been involved in that campaign.
Sessions added that his announcement “should not be interpreted as confirmation of the existence of any investigation.”
The White House has stood behind Sessions, though officials said they first learned about his contacts with the ambassador from a reporter Wednesday night.
President Donald Trump said he had “total” confidence in him and didn’t think he needed to step aside from the investigation.
The Justice Department has maintained there was nothing improper about Sessions’ contacts or his answers to Congress, while the continuing allegations of Russian interference in American politics spurred Democratic calls for Sessions not only to recuse himself but to resign.
Sessions has faced increasing demands that he resolve the seeming contradiction between his two conversations in the summer and autumn with Moscow’s U.S envoy, Sergey Kislyak, and his sworn statements to Congress in January, when he said he had not had communications with Russians during the campaign.
Calling for Sessions to resign, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi accused him of “lying under oath.” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said a special prosecutor should be appointed to examine whether the federal investigation into the Kremlin’s meddling in the U.S. election - and into possible contacts between Trump associates and Russians - had been compromised by Sessions. Democrats also sought a criminal perjury investigation.
“If there was nothing wrong, why don’t you just tell the truth?” Schumer said. Sessions’ testimony “was definitely extremely misleading to say the least.”