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Second Trump official faces ‘resign’ calls over Russian contacts

Jeff Sessions, a controversial appointment haunted by racism allegations, is now under fire over his ties to Russia

Trump's attorney general faces calls to go after it appears he misled Congress over meetings with Russian ambassador

Second Trump official faces ‘resign’ calls over Russian contacts

Donald Trump’s controversial appointee as attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has been forced to recuse himself – in our terms, disqualify himself – from investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election, after a day of drama surrounding two meetings he held with the Russian ambassador last year.

Speaking at a press conference amid mounting calls for his resignation, Sessions insisted he’d done nothing wrong in testifying to Congress that he did not know of any Trump campaign contacts with Russian officials during the election. He also claimed it was “totally false” to suggest he had met with “Russian operatives” about Trump’s campaign.

He is the second senior Trump appointee in hot water over apparent ties between the campaign and the ambassador. National security adviser Michael Flynn was forced to resign after it emerged he covered up conversations with the ambassador relating to former president Obama’s sanctions on Russia for tampering with the US election.

On Sessions, the Democrats’ leader in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, told reporters: “It would be better for the country if he resigned,” while their leader in Congress, Nancy Pelosi, went further: “Perjury is a crime and there are consequences to it,” she said.

Republicans stopped short of resignation calls but agreed Sessions must stand down from any involvement in the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US election.

The furore over the latest connections between the Trump administration and Russia plunged the administration back into crisis after 24 hours of favourable US media coverage for the president’s address to Congress earlier in the week.

Trump, touring the aircraft carrier USS Gerald R Ford in Virginia, said he had total confidence in Sessions and he should not disqualify himself from the FBI Russia investigation.

Asked if he knew Sessions spoke to the Russian ambassador, he said: “I wasn’t aware at all.” Asked if Sessions had testified truthfully to the Senate, the president said: “I think he probably did.”

The Washington Post reported Sessions met ambassador Sergey Kislyak at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, where Trump was confirmed as presidential candidate, and at his Senate office in September 2016 while US intelligence officials were investigating Russian interference in the presidential election.

Sessions’ spokeswoman confirmed the meetings took place, but provided a statement from the attorney general saying they were not related to the election campaign and insisting there was “nothing misleading” about his answer to Congress.

At Sessions’ judiciary committee hearing on 10 January, he was asked what he would do if it was discovered an official associated with the Trump campaign had communicated with the Russian government during the election cycle.

“I’m not aware of any of those activities,” Sessions replied. “I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians.”

As well as the FBI’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the US election, and any alleged links between associates of Trump and the Russian government, the Congress and Senate intelligence committees are conducting separate inquiries.

Senator Claire McCaskill, a Democrat from Missouri, cast doubt on Sessions’ explanation that he met the ambassador in his capacity as a member of the armed services committee.

“I’ve been on the armed services [committee] for 10 years,” she said on Twitter. “No call or meeting w/Russian ambassador. Ever. Ambassadors call members of [foreign relations committee].”

The Washington Post asked all 26 members of the committee whether they had met Kislyak last year. None of the 20 who replied, including committee chair John McCain, a leading Republican, had done so.

US intelligence agencies have concluded with “high confidence” that Russian intelligence services carried out sophisticated cyber attacks in an effort to undermine faith in the American electoral process and help elect Trump.

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