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United States

Trump sends defiant tweet supporting Sessions amid Russian contacts revelations

Donald Trump has denied new claims linking Attorney General Jeff Sessions with Moscow. US media meanwhile reported that Vice President Mike Pence used a private email account for "sensitive matters."

Responding to accusations about ties between his aides and Moscow, US President Donald Trump took to Twitter on Friday, where he called for "an immediate investigation" into Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer's own ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Alongside a tweet in which he called the Democrat "a total hypocrite," Trump posted a photo of Schumer as he met with Putin in New York in 2003.

Schumer responded on Twitter soon after, stating that he would "happily talk" under oath about his meeting with Putin, which took place "in full view of press and public" - before challenging Trump to do the same.

Trump's tweet on Friday came in response to reports in the "Washington Post" that Attorney General Jeff Sessions did not disclose during his confirmation hearing that he held two meetings with Russia's US ambassador, Sergey Kislyak.

Watch video 01:51

Sessions recuses self from Russia probe

One of the encounters took place in September, during the height of Russia's efforts to interfere with the US presidential election and tilt it in Republican Donald Trump's favor.

The other meeting is believed to have taken place in July. Although he was then a senator from Alabama, Sessions served as Trump's top foreign policy advisor at the time of the reported meetings. 

'Witch hunt'

Following the initial revelations, Trump hit out at Democrats calling for Sessions' resignation and   accused them of conducting a "witch hunt" against his administration.

In turn, the Republican admitted that Sessions - "an honest man" - could have "stated his response more accurately," but added that any unclarity was "not intentional."

Flynn resignation

Accusations of heinous links between the Trump administration and Moscow are nothing new to the six-week-old presidency, with federal investigators having already vowed to probe possible collusion between the two sides and Russian interference in November's US presidential election. 

Watch video 02:52

What can we expect from US-Russian ties?

Just three weeks into Trump's four-year term in office, the White House was forced to acknowledge that the president's former security advisor, Michael Flynn, had misled officials over his contacts with Russia's US ambassador. Flynn was subsequently forced to step down.

Vice president used private email as governor

The unfolding drama in the White House on Friday came as US media also reported that US Vice President Mike Pence used a private email account for matters of public business while still in office as governor of Indiana.

Emails obtained by the "Indianapolis Star" newspaper showed that Pence used the private account - which the paper reported was hacked last summer - to at times discuss "sensitive matters" and "homeland security issues."

Watch video 00:29

Pence defends use of private email account

The Star, which obtained the emails in a public records request, said that in response to its investigation Pence's office confirmed that the vice president "maintained a state email account and a personal account."

'Absurd' comparison with Clinton

Although Indiana law does not prohibit public officials from using personal email, it does generally require that messages connected to official business are kept for public information purposes.

Pence's office told the "Indianapolis Star" that his campaign had taken steps to allow outside counsel to transfer personal emails dealing with public business to the state.

As Trump's running mate on the 2016 campaign trail, Pence frequently criticized rival Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server as President Barack Obama's secretary of state. The Democrat was dogged by the email scandal throughout her presidential campaign.

Pence's spokesman Marc Lotter, however, described the comparison with Clinton as "absurd" as the Democrat had set up a private server in her home at the start of her tenure at the State Department. Unlike Clinton, Pence did not handle any classified material as Indiana's governor, Lotter said.

ksb/bw (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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