WASHINGTON (CBSMiami) – Another member of the Trump administration has come under fire for his reported communication with Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign.
The Justice Department confirmed to CBS News that Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke with Russian envoy Sergey Kislyak twice during the presidential campaign. The conversations were part of many he had with foreign ambassadors as a member of the Armed Services Committee.
Amid calls for him to step down from his position as attorney general, Sessions held a press conference Thursday afternoon.
“Let me be clear, I never had meetings with Russian operatives or intermediaries during the Trump campaign,” said Sessions.
In response to the backlash and after advice from his staff, Sessions recused himself from any existing or future investigation into Russia’s possible involvement in the U.S. election and/or Trump campaign.
The meetings were first reported in the Washington Post on Wednesday.
Trump stood by Sessions Thursday, saying he had “total” confidence in his attorney general. Asked if Sessions should recuse himself, Trump said: “I don’t think so.”
Sessions was a top advisor to the Trump campaign and did not disclose the encounters when asked about possible contacts between members of President Trump’s campaign and representatives of Moscow during his January confirmation hearing.
“I have been called a surrogate at a time or two during the campaign, and I did not have communications with the Russians,” said Sessions at the time.
Democratic House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi called for Sessions’ resignation claiming he ‘lied under oath.’
“There should be an independent commission and special prosecutor appointed to get to the bottom of this,” said Senator Bill Nelson.
During the press conference, Sessions did not say there would be a special prosecutor but did say the investigations would remain under the Department of Defense.
Former Florida Governor and former Senator Bob Graham spoke with CBS4’s Jim DeFede about the investigations into whether Russia had any involvement in the U.S. election.
“Are you concerned that the Trump Administration may in fact have some nefarious ties to the Russians,” asked DeFede.
“I believe the Russians were involved in our election. How deep and how effective they were is what we would learn from an investigation. And to what degree is this targeted specifically at the United States or are we going to see a pattern of Russian involvement in democratic elections across Europe and the globe,” responded Graham.
“Do you think Donald Trump is a Manchurian candidate as some like to think,” asked DeFede.
“I would withhold assessment of that. That’s exactly a key question that an investigation should give us a better basis upon which to answer,” said Graham.
The story broke on the same day The New York Times detailed efforts by members of the Obama Administration to disseminate information about possible contacts between associates of then-President-elect Trump and Russia.
The Trump Administration told CBS News that White House counsel asked the president’s aides this week to preserve emails and other materials that could be connected to probes of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
On Wednesday, the House Intelligence Committee formally outlined a framework for its bipartisan probe into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election. They’ll examine alleged communication between Moscow and the campaigns, as well as possible leaks by the intelligence community.