Attorney General Jeff Sessions came to his own defense Saturday, declaring that his decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation was something that he “had to do.”
Sessions explained that “career people” in the Justice Department had advised him to recuse himself from the DOJ’s investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election because he had been the Trump campaign’s national security advisor, The Washington Times reported.
“I was chairman of the National Security Committee of the Trump campaign and participated in it. So I didn’t feel like it was, that’s what I was advised, by the professionals, career people in the department and I felt like I had to recuse myself,” he said, responding to questions following a speech at a Federalist Society event at Georgetown University on Saturday.
“I think that’s what I had to do,” he said. “There is a specific regulation that says if you participate in a campaign — it explicitly says that — you cannot investigate the campaign of which you were a part. Pretty reasonable, I think.”
A Justice Department employee is prohibited from taking part in an investigation or prosecution if “he has a personal or political relationship …. with an elected official, candidate (whether or not successful) for elective public office, a political party, or a campaign organization,” according to the rule cited by Sessions: 28 CFR 45.2.
Special counsel Robert Mueller was appointed to lead the investigation by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein following Session’s recusal last March. President Trump has frequently criticized the decison by Sessions, stating that, if he had known ahead, he would have nominated someone else for attorney general.
The president has reportedly referred to the recusal by Sessions as an “original sin,” according to former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.
“I also think the president has made up his mind in regard to how he feels about the recusal,” Priebus told host George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “This Week” in an interview last week.
“He feels that was the first sin, the original sin. And he feels slighted by it. He doesn’t like it and he’s not going to let it go,” he said.
But the former Alabama senator claimed he had already made his plans known during his confirmation hearings.
“I told the confirmation committee I would consult with top officials in the department about any recusal issue,” Sessions said.
Relations between the president and the attorney general have reportedly been strained as Trump has been openly critical on several occasions, recently blasting Sessions over who he chose to head FISA abuse investigation.
Why is A.G. Jeff Sessions asking the Inspector General to investigate potentially massive FISA abuse. Will take forever, has no prosecutorial power and already late with reports on Comey etc. Isn’t the I.G. an Obama guy? Why not use Justice Department lawyers? DISGRACEFUL!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 28, 2018
Th Washington Post recently reported that Trump has referred to his chief law enforcement officer as the elderly cartoon character “Mr. Magoo.”
Sessions has previously defended himself against the barrage of criticism.
“As long as I am the attorney general,” he said in a statement, according to the Times, “I will continue to discharge my duties with integrity and honor, and this department will continue to do its work in a fair and impartial manner according to the law and Constitution.”
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