US Attorney General Jeff Sessions steps aside from Russia investigations
The pressure on Sessions comes at a time when Trump and Republicans who control Congress are trying to move past early administration missteps and focus on issues important to them including immigration and tax cuts.
US Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday recused himself from any investigations into the alleged Russian interference in 2016 US presidential elections.
His move follows political pressure for his recusal after The Washington Post reported that he met with Russia's ambassador to Washington twice last year, seemingly contradicting statements he made in Senate confirmation hearings in January.
"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," Sessions told reporters.
"This announcement should not be interpreted as confirmation of the existence of any investigation or suggestive of the scope of any such investigation," he added.
Read his full statement.
Jeff Session's full statement. (Image source: US Department of Justice) (Others)
Sessions said he had been weighing recusal -- ruling himself out from any role in the investigations -- even before the latest twist to the controversy over ties between Trump associates and Russia that has dogged the early days of his presidency.
US intelligence agencies concluded last year that Russia hacked and leaked Democratic emails during the election campaign as part of an effort to tilt the vote in Trump's favour. The Kremlin has denied the allegations.
During his Senate confirmation hearing in January, Sessions responded to a question from Democratic Senator Al Franken that he did not "have communications with the Russians" during the presidential campaign.
But on Wednesday night, the Washington Post revealed that Sessions, who was a senior campaign aide of Trump's, received Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak in his Senate office in September.
The other encounter was in July at a Heritage Foundation event that was attended by about 50 ambassadors, during the Republican National Convention, the Post said.
Sessions said he was "honest and correct" in his answer to Franken, drawing a distinction between his role as a senator and his role as a campaign aide.
Before the news conference, Trump said he had "total" confidence in Sessions. Asked whether Sessions should step aside from the investigations, Trump told reporters, "I don't think so".
Trump called frequently during his campaign for improved relations with Russia, drawing criticism from Democrats and some Republicans. Ties with Russia have been deeply strained in recent years over Moscow's military interference in Ukraine, military support for President Bashar al-Assad in Syria and President Vladimir Putin's intolerance of political dissent.