- Thomson Reuters
- Attorney General Jeff Sessions is not backing away from his decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation.
- During a meeting with members of the Federalist Society on Saturday, Sessions said he thinks recusal was “what I had to do.”
- Sessions’ recusal has been a thorn in the side for President Donald Trump, who said he never would have hired Sessions if he knew he was going to recuse himself from the Russia probe.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions believes he did the right thing when he recused himself from the Russia investigation, according to CNN.
“I think that’s what I had to do,” Sessions said during a meeting with the Federalist Society on Saturday.
The attorney general cited a “pretty reasonable” Department of Justice regulation that forbids DOJ officials from investigating campaigns of which they were a part.
Sessions was an early and ardent advocate for then candidate Donald Trump during the 2016 US election, championing his platform on immigration and a host of other issues. Sessions officially endorsed Trump in February 2016, becoming the first sitting US senator to throw their support behind the Manhattan mogul. He remained a campaign surrogate throughout the race and served as chairman of the campaign’s national security advisory board.
Trump nominated Sessions as attorney general shortly after he won the election in a shocking upset.
The DOJ regulation Sessions cited Saturday – 28 CFR 45.2 – says “no DOJ employee may participate in a criminal investigation or prosecution if he has a personal or political relationship with any person or organization substantially involved in the conduct that is the subject of the investigation or prosecution, or who would be directly affected by the outcome.”
The rule goes on to define a political relationship as “a close identification with an elected official, candidate, political party or campaign organization arising from service as a principal advisor or official.” A personal relationship “means a close and substantial connection of the type normally viewed as likely to induce partiality.”
Last March, Sessions came under scrutiny for failing to disclose meetings he had with Sergei Kislyak, then Russia’s ambassador to the US, during the 2016 campaign. Following the revelations, Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation, which is examining whether the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow to tilt the race in his favor.
At the time, Sessions said his decision to recuse himself was “right and just.”
Meanwhile, Trump saw things differently.
A report from The New York Times in January detailed how Trump directed a White House lawyer at the time to urge Sessions not to recuse himself from the Russia probe, which then FBI director James Comey was overseeing under the DOJ’s supervision.
Two months after Sessions’ recusal, Trump fired Comey, triggering Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to appoint the special counsel Robert Mueller.
The series of events still appears to exasperate Trump, who said last year that he never would have hired Sessions if he knew he was going to recuse himself.
In an unusual statement following Trump’s most recent attack on him earlier this month, Sessions said he stood by his decision.
“As long as I am the Attorney General, I will continue to discharge my duties with integrity and honor,” Sessions said in a statement, “and this Department will continue to do its work in a fair and impartial manner according to the law and Constitution.”