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US attorney gen Jeff Sessions quits Trump campaign probe under pressure

Washington: Embattled US attorney general Jeff Sessions announced Thursday that he would recuse himself from any investigation into Donald Trump’s election campaign, which faces intense scrutiny over contacts with Russia.

But after receiving a strong endorsement from Trump, Sessions did not bow to pressure to step down over charges he lied to Congress about his own meetings with the Russian ambassador before the election.

After reviewing ethics rules for his office, Sessions said, “I have decided to recuse myself from any existing or future investigations of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for president of the United States.”

“When you evaluate the rules, I feel that I should not be involved in investigating a campaign I had a role in,” he told a news conference in the US capital.

The move came as the White House struggled to tamp down fresh revelations of contacts by Trump associates with Russia that threaten to snowball into a full-blown crisis for the new administration.

Democrats are pressing for an independent investigation to study all sides of the controversy, from Russian meddling in the presidential race, to whether Trump campaign aides colluded with the Russian effort.

Earlier Thursday Sessions admitted that he had met Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak twice last year while he was still a US senator and actively supporting Trump’s fight to win the White House.

Trump responded by declaring his “total” confidence in Sessions, while adding that he “wasn’t aware” of the meetings between Sessions and Moscow’s envoy.

Multiple probes

The encounters came while US intelligence agencies were probing Moscow’s alleged operation to hack Democratic Party computers and release materials that would hurt the campaign of Trump’s rival Hillary Clinton.

In January, Sessions told a Senate panel that he had no contacts with the Russians during the campaign.

Sessions clarified Thursday that his Senate confirmation hearing statement addressed whether there were any contacts with the Russians on behalf of and about the campaign.

He said he had mainly discussed international politics with Kislyak.

“In retrospect, I should have slowed down and said, but I did meet one Russian official a couple times, that would be the ambassador.”

Already, one member of Trump’s top team — short-lived national security adviser Mike Flynn — has been forced to resign over controversy over his contacts with Kislyak.

The White House has rejected suggestions that Trump campaign aides colluded with Moscow to skew the election.

US intelligence agencies continue to probe the contacts, and although the Justice Department will not confirm it, both the White House and members of Congress have said the Federal Bureau of Investigation is examining the issue as well.

Meanwhile four congressional committees are investigating the issue. Fearing that Republicans and the White House could try to bury the matter, Democrats have called for an independent probe and were pushing for Sessions to step down.

AFP