Chuck Schumer is trying to get his gym buddy fired. On Thursday morning, the Senate Minority Leader called for Jeff Sessions to resign, following revelations that the attorney general had met with the Russian ambassador to the United States twice last year — contacts that appeared to contradict Sessions’s testimony to Congress during his confirmation hearings.
“I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians,” Sessions told the Senate Judiciary Committee in January, when he was asked what he would do if he learned that Trump campaign officials had been in communication within the Russian government during the 2016 campaign.
On Wednesday night, the Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal revealed that Sessions did have communications with at least one Russian — the ambassador and alleged spy Sergey Kislyak. The two first spoke at an event hosted by the Heritage Foundation during the Republican National Convention. Then, they had a meeting in Sessions’s Senate office in September.
Sessions does not deny that these meetings took place. But he insists that his congressional testimony was accurate, nonetheless, because he had met with the Russian ambassador in his capacity as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, not as a surrogate for the Trump campaign.
The Senate Minority Leader finds this explanation unsatisfying.
“The information reported last night makes it clear beyond the shadow of a doubt that Attorney General Sessions cannot possibly lead an investigation into Russian interference in our elections or come anywhere near it,” Schumer said, reiterating his belief that Sessions should have already recused himself from the investigation, given his role in the president’s campaign. “Recusal should’ve been given, but this goes beyond that. He had weeks — Attorney General Sessions had weeks to correct the record that he made before the Judiciary Committee. But he let the record stand … because the Department of Justice should be beyond reproach for the good of the country, Attorney General Sessions should resign.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi reached that very same conclusion last night, as did many other congressional Democrats.
“Jeff Sessions lied under oath during his confirmation hearing before the Senate,” Pelosi said. “We now know that statement is false.”
Democratic senator Claire McCaskill challenged Sessions’s explanation for his meeting with Kislyak Thursday morning — and inadvertently strengthened his defense against charges of perjury in the process.
Apparently, meetings with Russian ambassadors are easy to forget.
At his press conference Schumer seemed to acknowledge that Sessions’s resignation was a reach goal, saying, “Whatever one’s views are on resignation, the most important thing we must do is ensure the integrity of the investigation.”
Some Republicans agree. Senator Lindsey Graham and House Oversight Chair Jason Chaffetz have both called for Sessions to recuse himself from further investigations into Russian interference — a reasonable proposition, considering that, per the Journal, Sessions has, himself, been a subject of the FBI’s inquiries.
Late Thursday morning, Paul Ryan suggested that, if the Journal’s reporting holds up, Sessions would “of course” recuse himself.
Early Thursday morning, Sessions told NBC News, “I have said whenever it’s appropriate, I will recuse myself. There’s no doubt about that.” The attorney general did not say whether it was now appropriate.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy appeared to recommend Sessions’s recusal Thursday morning, telling MSNBC’s Morning Joe, “I just think for any investigation going forward, you want to make sure everybody trusts the investigation … that there’s no doubt within the investigation.”
But, less than an hour later, McCarthy told Fox & Friends, “I’m not calling on him to recuse himself … it’s amazing how people spin things so quickly.”