WASHINGTON, D.C. — The White House rejected calls by House leaders on Thursday for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Sessions has faced intense scrutiny from Democrats and Republicans alike since a report surfaced that he spoke with Moscow’s U.S. envoy twice last year, a discovery that seems to contradict sworn testimony he have during his confirmation hearing.
“There’s nothing to recuse himself,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said in an interview with Fox News that aired late Thursday morning.
“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,” he said.
Defenders of Session say meetings between senators and diplomats, such as the communications described in the report, are routine and of no real significance, but even some say it may be best to air on the side of caution.
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) who said he considers the former Alabama senator a “friend” said “it would be best for him and for the country to recuse himself from the [Department of Justice] Russia probe” to avoid any appearance of impropriety.
Portman’s comments were later echoed via Twitter by House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) who wrote: “AG Sessions should clarify his testimony and recuse himself.”
Surprisingly, Sessions received some unexpected backing early Thursday afternoon by several House Democrats who likened the attack on Sessions to a witch hunt.
“I’ve met with the Russian ambassador with a group, in my capacity, with a group of other senators,” Sen. Joe Manchin, (D-W.Va.), told CNN. “That’s in my official capacity. That’s nothing. That’s my job.”
Sen. Roy Blunt, (R-Mo.), said in a statement that he’d talked to “at least twenty ambassadors in the last six weeks.”
“It would have been very normal for Sessions, as a senator, to have talked to the Russian ambassador without discussing the election,” said Blunt.
The controversy regarding Sessions arose late Wednesday evening after a published report by the Washington Post claimed that he had met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in July and again in September, despite sworn testimony given during his confirmation hearing that he had never spoken with Russian officials during the time he served as a campaign surrogate for then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.
Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Charles Schemer (N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), have said Sessions should not only recuse himself from the investigation but resign as Attorney General.
In his defense, Sessions says the conversations between he and Kislyak occurred in his capacity as a member of the Armed Services Committee and not as surrogate for the Trump campaign.
The controversy comes just weeks after retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn resigned as Trump’s national security adviser amid allegations that he misled Vice President Pence about his own conversations Sergey Kislyak.
Request for statement from a Sessions spokesperson resulted in “no comment”.