President Donald Trump stood by his attorney general Jeff Sessions on Thursday, amid a growing storm over revelations that Sessions met last year with Russia's ambassador but did not disclose the contacts in Senate testimony. Rough Cut (no reporter narration).
ROUGH CUT (NO REPORTER NARRATION) STORY: U.S. President Donald Trump stood by his attorney general on Thursday (March 02) as a political storm erupted after it emerged that Jeff Sessions met last year with Russia's ambassador but did not disclose the contacts in Senate testimony. Sessions is the country's top law enforcement official and several of his fellow Republicans in Congress called for him to recuse himself from investigations into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Democrats went further and urged Sessions' resignation and the appointment of a special prosecutor, in a flare-up of a controversy over ties between Trump associates and Russia that has dogged the early days of his presidency. Trump said he had "total" confidence in Sessions. "I don't think so," he told reporters during a visit to Newport News, Virginia, when asked whether Sessions should step aside from the investigations. Answering questions from reporters, Trump said he "wasn't aware at all" that Sessions had spoken with the Russian ambassador. Asked whether Sessions testified truthfully to the Senate, Trump said, "I think he probably did." 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, tax cuts and repealing the Obamacare healthcare law. Sessions, a former U.S. senator who was a senior campaign aide of Trump's, received Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak in his office in September, the Washington Post reported. 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. The Justice Department confirmed the two meetings, saying they were in Sessions' capacity as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and there was nothing untoward about them. Sessions also denied any wrongdoing. During his 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 course of the presidential campaign. Several Republican lawmakers called on Thursday for Sessions to recuse himself from the Russia investigation, while others, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, did not. Among the Republicans calling for Sessions to recuse himself were: Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House of Representatives Oversight Committee; Senators Rob Portman, Susan Collins and Lindsey Graham; and Representative Darrell Issa. Ryan told reporters he saw no purpose in Sessions recusing himself unless the attorney general himself was the subject of an investigation.