Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced he would recuse himself from any investigations involving President Trump’s campaign, following reports that he did not disclose meeting with the Russian ambassador.
At a press conference at the Department of Justice, Sessions said that his meetings with the Russian official were not improper, saying the decision stemmed from his role as a campaign surrogate.
“I should not be involved in investigating a campaign I had a role in,” he said.
Read a running transcript of Sessions remarks.
SESSIONS: It’s good to be with you. Welcome to the Department of Justice.
Jody, thank you for being with me. He is my chief of staff and Jody has been almost 20 years in the Department of Justice. Let me share a few thoughts. First, about the comments that I made to the committee that have been said to be incorrect and false, let me be clear. I never had meetings with Russian operatives or Russian intermediaries about the Trump campaign. And the idea that I was part of a quote, “continuing exchange of information” during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government is totally false.
That is the question that Senator Franken asked me at the hearing, and that’s what got my attention. As he noticed — noted, it was the first — just breaking news. And it got my attention. And that is the question I responded to.
I did not respond by referring to the two meetings, one very brief after a speech, and one with two of my senior staffers, professional staffers with the Russian ambassador in Washington, where no such things were discussed.
In my reply to the question — my reply to the question of Senator Franken was honest and correct as I understood it at the time. I appreciate that some have taken the view that this was a false comment. That is not my intent. That is not correct.
I will write the Judiciary Committee soon, today or tomorrow, to explain this testimony for the record.
Secondly, at my confirmation hearing, I promised that I would do this. If a specific matter arose where I believed my impartiality might reasonably be questioned, I would “consult with the department ethics officials regarding the most appropriate way to proceed,” close quote.
That’s what I told them at the confirmation hearing. I have been here just three weeks today. A lot has been happening in this three week period. I wish I’d had more of my staff on board, but we’re still waiting for confirmation for them.
Much has been done. Much needs to be done. But I did and have done as I promised. I have met with senior officials shortly after arriving here. We evaluated the rules of ethics and recusal. I have considered the issues at stake. In fact, on Monday of this week, we set a meeting with an eye to a final decision on this question. And on Monday, we set that meeting today. So this was a day that we planned to have a final discussion about handling this.
I asked for their candid and honest opinion about what I should do about investigations, certain investigations. And my staff recommended recusal. They said that since I had involvement with the campaign, I should not be involved in any campaign investigation. I have studied the rules and considered their comments and evaluation. I believe those recommendations are right and just.
Therefore, I have recused myself in the matters that deal with the Trump campaign. The exact language of that recusal is in the press release that we — we will give to you. I’ve said this, quote, “I have now decided to recuse myself from any existing or future investigations of any matter relating in any way to the campaigns for president of the United States.”
I went on to say, “this announcement should not be interpreted as confirmation of the existence of any investigation or suggestive of the scope of any such investigation because we in the Department of Justice resist confirming or denying the very existence of investigations.”
So, in the end, I have followed the right procedure, just as I promised the committee I would, just as I believe any good attorney general should do. And a proper decision, I believe, has been reached.
So I thank you for the opportunity to make those comments, and would be pleased to take a few questions. OK?
QUESTION: Just to clear up any confusion over this, could you just explain a little bit about the September 8th meeting? Who on your staff was there? And what was discussed with the Russian ambassador?
SESSIONS: The Russian ambassador apparently sent a staffer to my office — I did not see him — and asked for a meeting, as so many of the ambassadors were doing. And we set up a time, as we did — as we normally did. And we met with him.
Two of my senior staffers were there, and maybe a younger staffer, too. And they are both retired Army colonels, and not politicians, and we had a — we listened to the ambassador and what his concerns might be.
Check back for a complete transcript later.