Attorney General Jeff Sessions said early Thursday that he would be willing to recuse himself from any investigation of Russian involvement in President Trump’s campaign if it’s “appropriate.”
“I have said whenever it’s appropriate, I will recuse myself,” he told NBC News. “There’s no doubt about that.”
Reports emerged late Wednesday that Sessions spoke twice with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the 2016 presidential race. Sessions did not disclose those conversations during his confirmation hearings for attorney general, testifying under oath that he “did not have communications with the Russians.”
Sessions defended himself during his comments with NBC News, saying he didn’t discuss the presidential campaign with Russian officials.
“Well, I have not met with any Russians at any time to discuss any political campaigns,” he said. “Those remarks are unbelievable to me and are false. I don’t have anything else to say about that.”
Sessions’s latest comments come as more GOP lawmakers say he might have to recuse himself from any investigation involving Russia and the Trump campaign at the Justice Department.
On Thursday morning, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) suggested it would be “easier” if Sessions recused himself from any Russia-related investigations that might come up.
“I don’t have all the information in front of me, I don’t want to pre-judge, but I just think for any investigation going forward, you want to make sure everybody trusts the investigation,” McCarthy said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
“That there’s no doubt within the investigation. … I think it would be easier from that standpoint, yes.”
The FBI is said to be investigating contact between Russian officials and members of the Trump campaign, though there has yet to be any formal charges brought. Committees in the House and Senate are pursuing their own investigations.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Wednesday said that if the FBI finds any criminal activity related to campaign aides’ alleged contact with Russian officials, then a special prosecutor will likely be needed.
Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.), meantime, said he wished Sessions had been “more clear” during the confirmation process about his meetings.
“It gives me some pause that he wasn’t more clear about the meeting,” Duffy said Thursday morning on CNN’s “New Day.”
“I think as he’s going through the campaign with Mr. Trump though, he was acting in his official capacity as a senator, you want to disclose that information and I think it should have been more clear during his confirmation process that he did have the meetings.”
Sessions, a former Republican senator from Alabama, reportedly spoke with Kislyak during a July Heritage Foundation event at the Republican National Convention attended by about 50 ambassadors.
A Department of Justice official told The Washington Post Kislyak was among a group of diplomats who approached Sessions and spoke with him informally there.
Sessions also spoke with Kislyak via phone in September, according to a spokeswoman for the attorney general.
The conversation took place during a time when U.S. intelligence officials assert that Russia was interfering in the 2016 race through a hacking and influence campaign.
Reports emerged last month that top aides and allies of Trump’s White House run were in recurring contact with senior Russian intelligence officials.
Democrats seized on news about Sessions speaking with Kislyak, arguing Sessions must recuse himself from any federal investigation into contact between Russia and Trump’s team.
“This is not normal. This is not fake news,” Warren tweeted. “This is a very real & serious threat to the national security of the United States.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also called for Sessions’s resignation, saying Sessions is “not fit to serve as the top law enforcement officer of our country.”
Trump has repeatedly dismissed the reports of Russia contacts as “fake news” and suggested the real issue is leaks of information from the intelligence community.
Yet scrutiny of the issue continues to build, particularly after Michael Flynn resigned last month as national security adviser for misleading Vice President Pence about his own phone conversations with Kislyak after the election.
This report was updated at 9:54 a.m.