Donald Trump called his embattled Attorney General, Jeff Sessions -- who has come under scrutiny for not disclosing contacts with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. during the campaign -- an "honest man" but said he could have responded "more accurately" at his confirmation hearings.
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Sessions recused himself today from any current or future investigations involving campaigns for president, but insisted that he answered questions at his confirmation "honest and correct as I understood at the time," he said today.
Trump dismissed the inquiries into Russia as a "witch hunt" and reiterated his position that the real story is the "illegal leaks of classified and other information."
"Jeff Sessions is an honest man. He did not say anything wrong. He could have stated his response more accurately, but it was clearly not intentional," the president said in a statement. "This whole narrative is a way of saving face for Democrats losing an election that everyone thought they were supposed to win. The Democrats are overplaying their hand. They lost the election and now, they have lost their grip on reality."
Asked if Sessions -- who stated during his confirmation hearing in January that he "did not have communications with the Russians" as a Trump surrogate -- should have included his meetings with Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak in his confirmation testimony, the president earlier today told reporters he had "total" confidence in his attorney general and believed Sessions "probably" testified truthfully.
And he responded "I don't think so" when asked if Sessions should recuse himself.
A spokesperson for the Department of Justice dismissed Sessions' meetings as being a standard part of his job when he was a senator serving on the Armed Services Committee. However, the attorney general nevertheless pledged to recuse himself from "any existing or future investigation of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for president of the United States" just a few hours after Trump's comments, made aboard the USS Gerald Ford.
"Let me be clear: I never had meetings with Russian operatives or Russian intermediaries about the Trump campaign," Sessions told reporters today. "And the idea that I was part of a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries to the Russian government are false."
Yet many lawmakers joined the call for Sessions to resign and some Republicans had joined the chorus for recusal.
House Speaker Paul Ryan earlier said that Sessions should recuse himself if he "is the subject of an investigation."
"Should he recuse himself? I think he answered that question this morning, which is, if he himself is the subject of an investigation, of course he would. But if he's not, I don't see any purpose or reason to doing this," Ryan said today at his weekly news conference on Capitol Hill.
Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, also said he believes Sessions needs to recuse.
However, White House press secretary Sean Spicer defended Sessions in an interview with Fox News.
"There's nothing to recuse himself, he was 100 percent straight with the committee and I think that people are choosing to play partisan politics and they should be ashamed of themselves," Spicer said.