WASHINGTON—U.S. President Donald Trump said Thursday he has “total” confidence in Attorney General Jeff Sessions after media reports revealed Sessions had spoken with Russian Ambassador twice during Trump’s campaign but didn’t tell the Senate hearings for his confirmation.
Ahead of delivering a speech aboard the USS Gerald Ford in Newport News, Virginia, Trump told reporters he “wasn’t aware” that Sessions had contact with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States.
Asked if Sessions should recuse himself from a Justice Department probe into links between the Trump campaign and Russia, Trump said “I don’t think so.”
“I have said that, when it’s appropriate, I will recuse myself from the investigation,” Sessions told MSNBC on Thursday.
Bipartisan pressure for Sessions to resign or step aside from any investigations into Russia’s role in the U.S. 2016 elections is mounting as top Democrats at the Capitol, Nancy Pelosi in the House and Chuck Schumer in the Senate, are urging him to depart.
Sessions lied under oath at the Senate hearings, Pelosi said.
Schumer said the Justice Department should appoint a special prosecutor to examine the case.
Sessions spoke on the phone privately with Russian Ambassador to Washington from his office in September, said media reports Wednesday night.
Two months before the phone talk, Sessions also met with Kislayk and talked to him informally when attending an event held at conservative think tank Heritage Foundation along with 50 other ambassadors, Session’s spokeswoman Sara Isgur Flores confirmed.
“It was short and informal,” the spokeswoman said Wednesday night, adding that as a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee at the time, Sessions regularly met foreign ambassadors.
Sessions was not trying to mislead fellow senators when he said during his confirmation hearing that he had not had contacts with Moscow, the spokeswoman said.
“I never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign. I have no idea what this allegation is about. It’s false,” Sessions released a statement around midnight in a failed attempt to count down the new wave of political storm.
However, during the Senate hearings, when asked what he would do if he learned a member of Trump’s campaign had communicated with the Russian government over the course of the 2016 campaign, Sessions responded: “I’m not aware of any of those activities … I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians.”
Officials at the Justice Department said Sessions did not consider his talks with Kislyak relevant to the lawmakers’ questions and did not remember their discussion in detail.
Sessions was an early Trump supporter and one of his top advisers during the New York billionaire’s campaign last year.
Trump’s first National Security Adviser Michael Flynn stepped down last month after it was reported that he had discussed U.S. sanctions with Kislyak in December, and misled Vice President Mike Pence about the details.