Reaction from North Carolina lawmakers in Congress to news Attorney General Jeff Sessions met last fall with a Russian ambassador ranged from demands for his resignation and one Democrat calling for a perjury investigation, to the state’s two Republican senators defending their former Senate colleague.
North Carolina Republican U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis on Thursday pushed back on calls for Sessions to step down or recuse himself from ongoing federal probes related to Russian cyberattacks and alleged attempts to influence the 2016 presidential election.
Tillis told reporters he trusts President Donald Trump’s administration and Sessions – a former U.S. senator from Alabama, who now leads the Department of Justice – to make the call on whether the attorney general should separate himself from FBI inquiries into Russian activity or any role the DOJ may end up playing related to congressional investigations on the issue.
“We’re waiting for the (Trump) administration to give us more information and, hopefully, unlike the prior administration – the lack of transparency, delayed recusal decisions – they will make an informed decision,” Tillis said. “At this point I think we just have to get the facts.”
There’s no way I think he lied in the hearing.
U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C.
Senior North Carolina Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr made a similar statement Thursday, saying Sessions has already committed to “recuse himself when needed and I trust him to make what he feels is the appropriate decision as to his involvement in any investigation into Russian active measures and the 2016 election.”
Burr is the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is handling that chamber’s bipartisan wide-ranging investigation into Russia’s alleged hacking of the Democratic Party, subsequent leaks and possible ties to the Trump campaign. In the U.S. House, a similar congressional probe is underway.
Burr and Tillis’ comments came as leading Democrats on Capitol Hill demanded Sessions resign, accusing him of misleading senators during his attorney general confirmation hearing in January, which Sessions has denied.
Some Republicans, including U.S. Reps. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, and Darrell Issa of California, called for Sessions to recuse himself.
Pressure mounted after a Washington Post report Wednesday revealed Sessions hadn’t previously disclosed a meeting he had in his office in September 2016 with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. At the time of the meeting, Sessions was an influential adviser to Trump’s presidential campaign and also a senior member of the Senate Armed Services committee.
That meeting, as well as another informal conversation Sessions had with Kislyak last year, came under scrutiny this week because Sessions had not previously disclosed his contact with the ambassador when he was asked about related communications during a confirmation hearing.
The American people should not tolerate a crook for its top cop.
U.S. Rep. Alma Adams, D-N.C.
Department of Justice officials acknowledged Sessions hadn’t shared the information with senators during the hearing but also said Sessions had not been misleading in his answers. The exchanges in question, on January 10, include inquiries from Democratic U.S. Sens. Al Franken and Patrick Leahy.
Sessions responded to Leahy’s question in writing in January that he had not discussed the 2016 election with any official with the Russian government. Also, during his public confirmation hearing, Sessions told Franken he had no knowledge of Trump campaign contact with the Russian government and then said, “I did not have communications with the Russians.”
Tillis on Thursday defended Sessions’ statement that he hadn’t had communications with anyone from the Russian government.
“There’s no way I think he lied in the hearing. Not at all. That’s a false narrative. I completely reject it,” Tillis said.
Other lawmakers from North Carolina, though, say Sessions’ response to questions in his confirmation proceedings are directly contradicted by the revelation this week that he met with Ambassador Kislyak.
U.S. Rep. Alma Adams, a Democrat from Charlotte, accused Session of lying under oath.
“This is unacceptable,” Adams said in a news statement. “The American people should not tolerate a crook for its top cop.”
U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, a Democrat from Wilson, said Sessions should recuse himself from oversight of federal investigation of Trump’s campaign and the Russian government. Butterfield called for Sessions to be investigated for perjury.
U.S. Rep. David Price, a Democrat from Chapel Hill, said evidence indicates Sessions lied under oath and he also called for the attorney general to resign.
All three North Carolina Democrats in the U.S. House, as well as Republican U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, support an independent, bipartisan commission made up of citizens to investigate Russian hacking, possible ties to Trump’s team and alleged interference in the 2016 election.