Update: AG Sessions recuses himself from any Russia/U.S. election probes

A new report contradicts the attorney general's testimony about communications with Russia.
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Update, 3:30 p.m.

New Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself from any investigations into any matters arising from last year's election campaign, which would include those probing alleged Russian involvement in the election.

Here's his statement:

It comes after a day of pressure on Sessions, after the Washington Post revealed he had reportedly twice spoken to the Russian ambassador to the U.S. last year while serving as a senator but also as an adviser to the Trump campaign.

During his confirmation hearing for attorney general, Sessions was asked by Minnesota Sen. Al Franken whether anyone with affiliations with the Trump campaign had been in contact with the Russian government during the course of the campaign.

Sessions said no, and in a press conference Thursday afternoon admitted he was "taken aback" by the question and should have taken more time to answer the question and bring up the two meetings.

Here’s the original story from Thursday morning. 

New Attorney General Jeff Sessions reportedly spoke twice with a Russian ambassador to the U.S. last year – which if true, would seem to contradict what he told Senator Al Franken during a January confirmation hearing.

The Washington Post reported Wednesday that Sessions met twice with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in 2016 – once in July at a Heritage Foundation event, then again in September in Sessions' private office.

Sessions at the time was still serving as an Alabama senator, and was a member of the Armed Services Committee.

He was also closely tied to Donald Trump's campaign for president.

Sessions had publicly endorsed Trump in February of 2016, and the next month joined the Trump campaign team as head of the National Security Advisory Committee. Sessions and Trump during the campaign spoke "several times a week" on the phone that spring, U.S. News and World Report said.

Sessions is the second of Trump's administration leaders to be engulfed in controversy over Russian ties. Michael Flynn resigned as national security adviser after it came out he was not up front about meetings with the same Russian ambassador, Kislyak.

Sessions' answers on Russia

After winning the election, Trump picked Sessions to be the next attorney general of the United States. Other senators got a chance to question and vet Sessions in January (since the U.S. Senate is the body that approves cabinet nominations), and Russia was mentioned at least twice.

One instance came on Jan. 10 according to CNN, when Sen. Franken – the Minnesota Democrat who was very open about not liking Sessions for the job – asked the following:

"If there was any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign, what would you do?"

Sessions, while testifying under oath, 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."

Sessions was also asked in a questionnaire by a different senator if he had "been in contact with anyone connected to any part of the Russian government about the 2016 election, either before or after election day?" to which Sessions simply wrote back, "No."

Those answers appear to contradict the Washington Post report about his two meetings with a Russian ambassador.

But a spokesperson for Sessions said that wasn't the case. She told the Washington Post Sessions was asked about communications between Russia and the Trump campaign specifically. And the Justice Department said the September meeting with the Russian ambassador was part of Sessions' role on the Armed Services Committee – not as a member of Trump's campaign, the paper reported.

On Thursday, Sessions told NBC News: "I have not met with any Russians at any time to discuss any political campaign."

So what's next?

Sessions was confirmed as attorney general by a 52-47 vote in the Senate in early February.

Franken late Wednesday released a statement saying, if the report is true, "then I am very troubled that his response to my questioning during his confirmation hearing was, at best, misleading. "

Franken during the confirmation hearings stressed how important it was that Sessions properly represent his record.

Update: Thursday afternoon Franken sent a letter to the attorney general, saying if it's determined Sessions lied while under oath, he should resign.

Democrats have started calling for Sessions to recuse himself from the investigation into any possible contact between Russia and the Trump campaign, saying it's a clear conflict of interest, the New York Times reports. Some GOP lawmakers have started asking for the same, according to the Washington Post.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar has joined in, tweeting he should step away from the probe. She's also calling for a special prosecutor to dig into any contacts with Russian officials.

Other lawmakers, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, are calling on Sessions to resign. Minnesota Rep. Betty McCollum is pushing for the same thing.

The White House fired back Thursday morning, saying it's the "latest attack ... by partisan Democrats," Fox News reports. They specifically pointed to Franken as "pushing the story" to take away attention from the president's Joint Sessions address.

"General Sessions met with the ambassador in an official capacity as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is entirely consistent with his testimony," the White House added, according to Fox News.

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