Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced he will recuse himself from a federal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, while defending his contacts with the Russian ambassador during the election as proper.
“I should not be involved in investigating a campaign in which I had a role in,” Sessions said in a press conference Thursday.
Still, Sessions denied any wrongdoing and disputed assertions that he spoke with the Russian ambassador about the campaign.
“Let me be clear: I never had meetings with Russian operatives or Russian intermediaries about the Trump campaign,” Sessions said. “And the idea that I was part of ‘continuing exchanges of information between the campaign and Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government’ is totally false.”
However, Sessions said he had consulted with Justice Department ethics officials, who recommended that he recuse himself from any and all investigations related to the campaign.
“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 President of the United States," Sessions said, reading from a statement.
“This announcement should not be interpreted as confirmation of the existence of any investigation or suggestive of the scope of any such investigation.”
Sessions’s announcement comes as he faces mounting pressure to resign or recuse himself over his communications with the Russian envoy.
Sessions spoke twice with the ambassador during the campaign, news that emerged Wednesday night and was first reported by the Washington Post.
Those conversations appear to contradict Sessions’ testimony to Congress during his confirmation hearings, as he said he had no contact with “the Russians” after Democratic Senator Al Franken asked him about reports that Trump’s campaign had contacts with the Russian governement during the presidential campaign.
Responding to a question from a reporter, Sessions said he did not know whether the Russian ambassador scheduled those meetings because he was considered a surrogate for the Trump campaign. He also said he believed those two meetings were his only contacts with the Russian envoy.
Some Democrats are demanding that Sessions resign, while Democratic leaders and some Republicans say Sessions should step aside from a federal investigation into Russian interference in the election.
The Justice Department says there was nothing inappropriate about Sessions’s contacts. Sessions said Thursday morning he never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign.
President Donald Trump said Thursday afternoon before the news conference that he “wasn't aware” Sessions had contact with the Russian ambassador but insisted that he had “total” confidence in his attorney general. He also said he doesn’t think Sessions should recuse himself from the federal investigation.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.