Will Jeff Sessions recuse himself from Russia probe?

The White House on Sunday did not rule out that Attorney General Jeff Sessions may recuse himself from Justice Department investigations into allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Susan Walsh/AP/File
Attorney General Jeff Sessions is greeted by employees as he arrives at the Justice Department in Washington on Feb. 9.

It's too early to tell whether Attorney General Jeff Sessions should recuse himself from Justice Department investigations into allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, the White House said on Sunday amid mounting pressure from Democrats. 

In an interview with ABC's "This Week," deputy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said congressional investigations into possible Russian hacking of Democratic groups would need to play out fully before determining whether Mr. Sessions should step aside. 

"I wasn't saying that he shouldn't recuse himself or that he should," Ms. Sanders said. "My point is I don't think we're there yet. Let's work through this process."

Critics argue that Sessions, a top adviser to President Trump during his 2016 campaign, should remove himself from any investigations into Russia's role in the election. US intelligence analysts have concluded that Russia attempted to help Mr. Trump win the election by discrediting Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and her party by stealing emails from the Democratic National Committee, an allegation that Moscow has denied. The FBI is currently investigating the alleged election-related hacking and financial transactions by Russian people and companies thought to have links to associates of Trump, current and former government officials say. 

"Those prosecutors should not be reporting to the first senator who endorsed Donald Trump’s campaign, who served on the same campaign committee as Michael Flynn, and who nominated Donald Trump at the Republican convention," Democratic majority leader Chuck Schumer said at a press conference last week. "The Justice Department’s own guidelines demand that Attorney General Sessions remove himself from this matter immediately."

According to Justice Department guidelines, "no DOJ employee may participate in a criminal investigation or prosecution if he has a personal or political relationship with any person or organization substantially involved in the conduct that is the subject of the investigation or prosecution, or who would be directly affected by the outcome." 

While legal experts are divided on whether Justice Department guidelines require that Sessions recuse himself, some say that the attorney general should, at the very least, consult ethics officials on the matter. 

Sessions "has a relationship as attorney general with the president, he is a subordinate of the president, he has to deal with the president on a daily basis," said Bruce Green, director of the Louis Stein Center for Law and Ethics at Fordham University, to The Atlantic. "[T]he regulation refers to having to recuse if you have a political relationship with an elected official who is involved in the conduct that is the subject of the investigation." 

On Friday, California Republican Rep. Darrell Issa said on "Real Time with Bill Maher" that he didn't believe a political appointee such as Sessions should perform the investigation and raised the possibility of appointing a special prosecutor. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, also a Republican, disagreed with this suggestion over the weekend, arguing on CNN's "State of the Union" that "when a special prosecutor gets involved, the thing gets completely out of control."

The president, for his part, has dismissed the controversy over links between his team and Russia as a "ruse" perpetuated by the media. 

"Russia talk is FAKE NEWS put out by the Dems, and played up by the media, in order to mask the big election defeat and the illegal leaks," he wrote in a tweet Sunday. 

This report includes material from Reuters.

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