Democratic lawmakers on Thursday remained largely unsatisfied with Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, with some continuing to call for his resignation.
"Attorney General Sessions’ narrow recusal and his sorry attempt to explain away his perjury are totally inadequate," Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.
Sessions announced in a press conference Thursday he would not be involved in the Justice Department’s investigation into Russian intrusions into the 2016 campaign after revelations he met with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. before the presidential election.
The attorney general said nothing improper happened, but concluded he should recuse himself from the Russian investigation because of his role as a surrogate for then-candidate Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
That decision did little to satisfy Democrats.
Some have called on Sessions to make another appearance in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, where, during his confirmation hearing, he said he did not have contact with Russian officials during the campaign. Other Democrats have called for a special prosecutor to be appointed to look into the Russian intrusions and a large number have called on Sessions to resign.
“The cover up may be as bad or worse as the crime,’ Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal said on MSNBC after Sessions’ announcement. “And the American people deserve the whole truth here.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who earlier in the day called for Sessions' resignation, called for a special prosecutor and said the Trump administration only does "the right thing when they are caught doing the wrong thing."
Throughout the day, a growing number of Republicans called on Sessions to recuse himself, including House Oversight Chair Jason Chaffetz and GOP Sens. Rob Portman, Susan Collins and Lindsey Graham. Graham applauded Sessions announcement on Twitter.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, however, said it is common for members of Congress to meet with ambassadors and it would only be necessary for Sessions to recuse himself if he is the direct subject of an investigation. "But if he's not, I don't see any purpose or reason in doing this," Ryan said.
During his confirmation hearings, Session said he did not have contact with Russian officials. Spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said Sessions did not mislead the Congress because he was asked about "communications between Russia and the Trump campaign" and not meetings held in his capacity as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Sessions was "100 percent straight" with the confirmation committee and that the former senator "did his job."
"I think this is Democrats continuing to push a false narrative for political purposes," Spicer said on Fox News.
A number of Republican lawmakers have either come to Sessions' defense or been non-committal on whether the attorney general needed to recuse himself. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz called the meeting "a nothing burger" but added that Sessions could have been more clear about his interactions with Russian officials.
"This is the latest attack against the Trump administration by partisan Democrats. General Sessions met with the ambassador in an official capacity as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is entirely consistent with his testimony, White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement.
After the story broke Wednesday night, Democrats immediately started intensifying calls for a special prosecutor to be appointed to oversee the probe. More and more Democrats began calling for Sessions' resignation come Thursday.
The House and Senate Intelligence committees have opened an investigation into Russia that includes contacts with the Trump campaign and transition. U.S. intelligence officials concluded Russia attempted to impact the 2016 election through cyber intrusions.
The Trump administration's relationship with Moscow has continued to come under fire in the opening month of his presidency. The president has said there is not direct connection between his staff and Russian officials.
Trumps first national security council director, Michael Flynn, resigned after he misled Vice President Mike Pence about the scope of his phone conversations with the Russian ambassador during the transition.