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Trump: Criticism of Sessions a 'witch hunt'

March 2, 2017

US President Donald Trump has accused Democratic lawmakers of conducting a "witch hunt" against Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sessions has recused himself from probes into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.

USA Vereidigung Jeff Sessions als Justizminister | mit Donald Trump
Image: Reuters/K. Lamarque

Sessions steps back from election tampering probe

US President Donald Trump on Thursday reiterated his support for Attorney General Jeff Sessions, calling him an "honest man," amid accusations he misled the Senate committee during his confirmation hearing over contacts with Russian officials.

Sessions earlier admitted during a news conference that he should have told the committee that he had met with Russia's ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, but insisted that his responses were honest and correct as he understood the questions at the time. He added that he did not discuss the presidential campaign with the Russian envoy and he did not recall any specific political discussions.

Trump, in turn, admitted that Session "could have stated his response more accurately" but added any unclarity was "not intentional."

Several Democratic Party lawmakers called for the attorney general's resignation after a report published by the "Washington Post" newspaper on Wednesday said he may have lied under oath.

The president retaliated, accusing Democrats of conducting a "witch hunt" against his administration, adding that Democrats, reeling from losing the presidential election, were overplaying their hands and had "lost their grip on reality."

Sessions steps aside from Russia probe

In one of his first actions as the top US law enforcement officer, Sessions announced he would recuse himself from any investigations probing Russia's alleged meddling in last year's presidential election because he was involved with Trump's campaign.

He said he made his decision based on staff recommendations, adding that his announcement "should not be interpreted as confirmation of the existence of any investigation."

Sessions said he would send a letter to the Senate panel explaining why his testimony failed to mention contacts with  Kislyak.

Outrage among Democrats

Ahead of the press conference, several top Democrats said due to the revelations, Sessions should not be involved in the investigation. They also were outraged over his failure to disclose the meetings during his Senate confirmation hearing.

"The Department of Justice should be above reproach," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said. "For the good of the country, Attorney General Sessions should resign."

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi accused Sessions of lying under oath to Congress after he told the confirmation hearing that he had had no communication with the Russians. "He has proved that he is unqualified and unfit to serve in that position of trust," Pelosi said.

Other Democrats called for an independent special prosecutor to be named to oversee the investigation in light of the reports.

Last month, the White House was forced to acknowledge that Trump's former security advisor, Michael Flynn, had misled officials over his contacts with Russia's US ambassador. Flynn was subsequently forced to step down.

dm/bw (AP, Reuters, AFP)