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US Attorney General steps aside from Russia probe under pressure

Updated: 2017-03-03 09:08
US Attorney General steps aside from Russia probe under pressure

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks at a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington, US, March 2, 2017. [Photo/Agencies]

WASHINGTON — Under intensifying pressure, Attorney General Jeff Sessions abruptly agreed Thursday to recuse himself from any investigation into Russian meddling in America's 2016 presidential election. He acted after revelations he twice spoke with the Russian ambassador during the campaign and failed to say so when pressed by Congress.

Sessions rejected any suggestion that he had tried to mislead anyone about his contacts with the Russian, saying, "That is not my intent. That is not correct."But he did allow that he should have been more careful in his testimony during his confirmation hearing, saying, "I should have slowed down and said, 'But I did meet one Russian official a couple of times.'"The White House has stood by Sessions in the latest controversy to dog President Donald Trump's young administration, though officials say they first learned about his contacts with the ambassador from a reporter Wednesday night. Trump himself said Thursday he had "total" confidence in Sessions and didn't think he needed to recuse himself — not long before he did.

One of Sessions' conversations with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak occurred at a July event on the sidelines of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. At that same event, the ambassador also spoke with Carter Page, who briefly advised Trump's campaign on foreign policy, according to a person with knowledge of the discussion.

Separately, a White House official said Thursday that Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn met with Kislyak at Trump Tower in New York in December. The official described that sit-down as a brief courtesy meeting.

Flynn was fired last month for misleading Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with Kislyak.

The Trump team's account of Flynn's contacts with the ambassador has changed several times. The White House did not disclose the in-person meeting, or Kushner's involvement, until Thursday.

Both the White House official and the person with knowledge of Page's discussion insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly disclose the meetings.

Trump has been trailed for months by questions about potential ties to Russia, and allegations of Russian efforts to interfere in the US election to help him defeat Hillary Clinton. The new president and his campaign officials have blamed such contentions on Democratic sore losers and have heatedly denied any contact with Russians concerning the election.

While there is nothing necessarily nefarious or even unusual about a member of Congress meeting with a foreign ambassador, typically members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee meet with foreign ambassadors, not Armed Services Committee lawmakers, such as Sessions, whose responsibility is oversight of the military and the Pentagon.

The latest development comes on the heels of what had been the high point of Trump's young presidency: a well-received address to Congress Tuesday night that energized Republicans and appeared to wipe away some lawmakers' concerns about the administration's tumultuous start.

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