Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., is calling for Jeff Sessions to resign as attorney general.
“He’s been the attorney general now for less than a month, and we’re questioning whether the top law enforcement official in the country … has committed a crime,” Cortez Masto told Yahoo News on Thursday afternoon.
She continued: “For that reason, I think he should resign. To protect the integrity of the agencies so that they continue to appear impartial.”
Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., also called for Sessions to resign Thursday. But Cortez Masto went further than most of her Democratic colleagues, by calling for an independent, bipartisan commission — similar to the one that investigated the 9/11 attacks — to be established to look into Russia’s role in the 2016 election.
In a brief press conference late Thursday afternoon, Sessions announced he would recuse himself from any Justice Department investigation into the Trump campaign’s contacts with the Russian government. Citing his role in the Trump campaign, he said he was already approaching that decision before the Washington Post revealed Wednesday night that he had twice met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak last year.
Sessions, under oath, told senators at his confirmation hearing in January that he had had no contact with Russians while he was involved in Trump’s campaign. On Thursday, he said he wasn’t thinking about the ambassador during that exchange, since he said he had met with Kislyak in his capacity as a senator — not as a Trump campaign surrogate. He said accusations that Trump campaign surrogates traded information with the Russian government were “false.”
“In retrospect, I should have slowed down and said I did meet one Russian official a couple of times,” Sessions said.
Cortez Masto stopped short of accusing Sessions of perjuring himself in his response to the Senate when under oath, saying an “investigation” will be needed to look into that question.
U.S. intelligence agencies believe the Russian government waged a campaign to undermine confidence in the U.S. election system last year, an effort that turned into an attempt to boost Donald Trump over his rival Hillary Clinton.
No Republicans have called for Sessions’ resignation, although several have said they believed he should recuse himself from any investigations of Russia’s influence in the 2016 election. Now that he’s done so, they’re likely to stand behind him.
During a tour of the USS Gerald Ford on Thursday afternoon, President Trump said he had “total” confidence in Sessions, and told reporters he saw no need for Sessions to recuse himself.
Cortez Masto said it was important for the public to believe the Justice Department will conduct “fair and impartial investigations and prosecutions.”
“I think he’s called that into question,” she said.