DENVER – Two members of Colorado’s congressional delegation say U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions should recuse himself from the Justice Department’s ongoing investigation into Russian interference in last year’s election amid reports he misled or lied to the Senate about his contacts with the Russian ambassador in the months before the election.
By Thursday afternoon, Sessions had done just that.
Sessions, who leads the U.S. Department of Justice, issued the following statement Thursday afternoon ahead of a news conference in which he announced he’d recuse himself from the investigation.
“During the course of the confirmation proceedings on my nomination to be Attorney General, I advised the Senate Judiciary Committee that ‘[i]f a specific matter arose where I believed my impartiality might reasonably be questioned, I would consult with Department ethics officials regarding the most appropriate way to proceed.’
“During the course of the last several weeks, I have met with the relevant senior career Department officials to discuss whether I should recuse myself from any matters arising from the campaigns for President of the United States.
“Having concluded those meetings today, I have decided to recuse myself from any existing or future investigations of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for the President of the United States.
“I have taken no actions regarding any such matters, to the extent they exist.
“This announcement should not be interpreted as confirmation of the existence of any investigation or suggestive of the scope of any such investigation.”
Sessions said that U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, Dane Boente, will act as attorney general for any investigations into Russian contacts during the election.
Colorado officials call for recusal Thursday morning
Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., both issued statements urging Sessions to recuse himself Thursday morning. Bennet also called for an independent prosecutor in the case.
“Jeff Sessions should recuse himself and appoint an independent prosecutor to investigate Russian involvement in the 2016 election and connections to the Trump campaign,” Bennet’s statement said. “The relevant congressional committees should also include the Attorney General’s communications within the scope of their investigations. The integrity of our democratic institutions is at stake, and the American people deserve the truth.”
After Sessions did recuse himself, Bennet doubled down, saying an independent prosecutor and commission for the investigation were still needed.
Recusal is first step, but independent prosecutor & commission still needed so Americans learn truth abt Russian interference & connections https://t.co/UyTvtLdxrR
— Michael F. Bennet (@SenBennetCO) March 2, 2017
Coffman was the second Colorado member of Congress to call for Sessions to recuse himself Thursday morning.
“Attorney General Jeff Sessions made a grave omission by not disclosing his meetings with the Russian Ambassador last year, including to the Senate during his confirmation hearing,” Coffman’s statement said. “I think it would be more than prudent for him to recuse himself from any Russian inquiry, and I would encourage him to fully disclose any and all foreign contacts he had during the course of the campaign. The American people and their representatives in Congress must have the reassurance such inquiry is done in an appropriate and unbiased manner.”
Sen. Cory Gardner, D-Colo., voted to confirm Sessions, but has said that “we know for sure” that Russians interfered with last year’s election. His communications director, Alex Siciliano, issued Denver7 a statement from Gardner around noon Thursday.
“Attorney General Sessions should explain the substance of his conversations with the Russian ambassador and communicate why those meetings were not acknowledged during his confirmation hearing. The American people deserve full transparency, and I’m confident that the ongoing FBI and bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigations will deliver answers.”
Gardner said during a telephone town hall meeting Wednesday that it was then “premature” to talk about Sessions recusing himself from the Justice Department investigations, and said he supported investigations underway in the House and Senate intelligence committees.
Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., who is a majority member of the House Judiciary Committee, issued the following statement to Denver7 Thursday afternoon on Sessions:
“We need to get to the bottom of whether Russia attempted to influence the election, but by focusing on Attorney General Session’s communications with a Russian Ambassador in the context of his role as a member of the Senate and Armed Services committee, Democrats are distracting us from moving this country forward.”
Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo., said a special prosecutor was needed for the Russian probe as well in a statement to Denver7.
“I’m shocked to learn Attorney General Sessions did not disclose his communications with Russian officials during the presidential campaign. With AG Sessions now at the center of this investigation, it’s clear he cannot be trusted to conduct a full and fair investigation into the ties between Trump officials and Russia. Furthermore, as a lawyer and a member of the Bar Association, AG Sessions has an obligation to avoid any appearance of impropriety and this standard appears to have been breached. A special prosecutor needs to be appointed immediately in order to lead a neutral investigation and get to the bottom of this.
“This certainly leads us to wonder what the President, the Attorney General and the Administration are hiding. Congressional Republicans have continued to obstruct the process to investigate ties between Russia and President Trump and his officials.
“The American people deserve nothing less than an independent, thorough investigation because we cannot allow a foreign nation to have undue influence over our democracy.”
Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo. said Sessions should resign or be removed.
“Attorney General Sessions’ contact with the Russian ambassador while an advisor to the Trump campaign once again proves this administration’s causal relationship with transparency and the truth. If these revelations are true, he has perjured himself. In any case, given what we now know, the Attorney General should resign immediately or be removed."
Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., said after Sessions’ announcement he was recusing himself from the investigation that he would like to see an independent commission to investigate the Russian meddling:
“Every day, more and more evidence is discovered about the dangerous ties between the Trump campaign and administration with Russia. The development involving Attorney General Jeff Sessions is gravely concerning. Obviously, Jeff Sessions is not the best person to investigate Jeff Sessions, and I am pleased that he is finally recusing himself from investigations involving Russia and the Trump campaign. In addition, if Sessions is found guilty of perjuring himself during his Senate confirmation hearing, he should resign. Americans deserve to have people of only the highest level of integrity leading the Department of Justice, and now more than ever, we need a 9/11-like, non-partisan, independent commission to investigate any forms of collusion.”
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper also issued a statement on Sessions' recusal:
“I’m not sure if recusal is sufficient. It may be an appropriate first step, but we need to see the results of the investigation. The Attorney General’s #1 priority is to uphold the laws of the land. If the investigation finds that a law was broken, a different response may be called for.”
Newspaper reports blow Sessions story open; calls for recusal and resignation
Reports originally published Wednesday evening by the New York Times and Washington Post and corroborated by the Associated Press say that Sessions had two conversations with Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak during the campaign – at least one of them specifically when Russian meddling was being further scrutinized by the White House and FBI.
The other meeting reportedly happened at a Heritage Foundation event in summer 2016 and was in a group setting. He also met with at least 25 other ambassadors because he served on the Senate Armed Services Committee until his confirmation for the attorney general position.
The Washington Post contacted all the other members of the committee, and none of them met in the past year with Kislyak.
Sessions had been called a policy adviser to Donald Trump as early as last February, and though some have argued that since he was still a U.S. senator at the time that there is no malfeasance for his contacts with Kislyak, other members of Congress have called for him to resign for lying under oath.
That call for him to resign, made by top Democrats Nancy Pelosi, Bernie Sanders and Chuck Schumer, comes on the basis that Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., asked Sessions specifically during confirmation hearings if anyone from Trump’s campaign had communicated with the Russians during the campaign.
Pelosi's office said that by noon Thursday, more than 100 House Democrats had called on Sessions to resign.
“Sessions told Franken he was “unaware of those activities” and said that though he’d been “called a surrogate” during the campaign, that he “didn’t have, did not have communications with the Russians, and I’m unable to comment on it.”
DOJ spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said Wednesday that “there was absolutely nothing misleading about his answer.”
"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," she elaborated in a further statement.
The White House on Thursday morning denied that Sessions should recuse himself from the investigation.
“There’s nothing to recuse himself,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer told Fox News Thursday morning, according to The Hill. “He was 100 percent straight with the committee, and I think that people [who are choosing to play partisan politics with this should be ashamed of themselves.”
But President Trump said he has "total" confidence in Sessions. But he said to a pool reporter, "I don't think" that Sessions should recuse himself and said that Sessioins "probably did" testify truthfully during his confirmation hearing.
And some Republicans, in addition to Coffman, also on Thursday said Sessions should recuse himself, including Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, who chairs the House Oversight Committee. He was joined by fellow Congressional Republicans Rep. Justin Amash (Mich.), Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio), Rep. Martha McSally (Ariz.) and Rep. Raul Labrador (Idaho).
House Speaker Paul Ryan said Thursday that Sessions should recuse himself if the alleged communication "is the subject of an investigation."
Sessions himself called for then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch to recuse herself from the investigation into Hillary Clinton's email servers after she famously met with Bill Clinton on an airport tarmac before the investigation.
And Eric Holder recused himself from an IRS investigation, as have several other attorneys general in other investigations. The Washington Post has also compiled at least six instances when Sessions called for recusal when it involved either Bill or Hillary Clinton.
Trump's initial national security adviser, Michael Flynn, resigned mid-February when it came to light from news reports that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence about his connections with Kislyak and other Russians.