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Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from any investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election Thursday, despite President Donald Trump expressing "total" confidence in him just hours earlier.
Earlier in the day and prior to Session's announcement, Trump told reporters he did not think his longtime supporter and recently-minted attorney general should recuse himself. Meanwhile, the drumbeat of calls from some lawmakers for Sessions to recuse himself or even resign from the Justice Department has grown increasingly louder.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters aboard Air Force One Thursday afternoon that President Trump has not spoken with Sessions since reports of the meeting broke on Wednesday night.
A senior administration official told NBC News that the White House learned about Sessions' contact during the 2016 campaign with a Russian ambassador from a reporter on Wednesday night prior to a story published in the Washington Post. That meeting was confirmed by a Sessions spokesperson as something done in his capacity as a senator at the time.
The official emphasized that the administration would not have inquired about the scheduling of or meeting held by Sessions during his time as senator.
Sessions previously told fellow senators during his confirmation hearings that he had never communicated with the Russians during the 2016 campaign. Asked if Sessions spoke truthfully during his confirmation hearings, President Trump said "I think he probably did."
Trump also said he was not aware of Session's meeting with the Russian ambassador.
While allowing that he had "been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign," Sessions stated during the hearings in January that he "did not have communications with the Russians, and I'm unable to comment" on reports that alleged contact between Trump campaign officials and the Kremlin.
Sessions Spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said in a statement Wednesday night that "there was absolutely nothing misleading about his answer" because Sessions was asked about "communications between Russia and the Trump campaign" and not about meetings he took as a senator with the Armed Services Committee.
The White House blamed "partisan Democrats" and Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., for pushing the story, which has sparked calls for recusal and even resignation from some members of Congress.
White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders echoed Flores in saying that Session met with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak "in an official capacity as member of the Senate Armed Services Committee" and called the meeting "entire consistent with his testimony."
Trump did not mention Sessions during his remarks about rebuilding America's military aboard the soon to be commissioned U.S.S. Gerald Ford in Newport News, Virginia.