Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy On The Need For An Independent Investigation Into Connections Between Russia And The White House

With each day, we continue to learn more about the troubling connections between the Russian government and President Trump’s campaign and administration.  But last night’s revelation that Attorney General Sessions met with Russian officials during the height of the presidential campaign raises a new level of alarm.

Now we know that the Attorney General, under oath, misled the Senate Judiciary Committee in response to my direct question about his contacts with Russian officials.  I asked then-Senator Sessions if he had been in contact with anyone connected to any part of the Russian government about the 2016 election.  He said no.  He provided a similarly misleading response to Senator Franken, saying that he was “not aware” of any connections between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.  It is already an egregious breach of public trust that Attorney General Sessions has not recused himself from this investigation.  Now we must ask whether he has perjured himself.

In response to these reports, the Attorney General claims that he “never met Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign.”  This is a wholly inadequate response.  The Attorney General was a top advisor to the Trump campaign.  He took a private, undisclosed meeting with the Russian ambassador during the height of concerns about Russian involvement in our election.  He also met with the Russian ambassador during an event at the Republican National Convention—ground zero for campaign activities.  If the Attorney General thinks that his explanation is sufficient—after he misled Congress about these contacts—he is mistaken.

The Attorney General is only the latest Trump administration official who has attempted to mask his contacts with the Kremlin.  The President’s first National Security Advisor lied to the Vice President about his communications with the Russian Ambassador.  He only resigned after the media reported on his lie, weeks after the President had been informed.  And the President’s Chief of Staff attempted to use the FBI, in violation of Justice Department policies, to suppress news reports about Russian contacts.  It is clear that we cannot trust the administration to play by the rules.

Russia’s meddling in our election is nothing less than an attack on our democracy.  It is one of the most disturbing national security challenges facing our country.  Russian President Putin ordered a multi-faceted campaign aimed at helping Donald Trump win and undermining public faith in our election.  This should alarm and outrage all of us.

Yet, oddly, we did not hear a word about it during the President’s speech on Tuesday to the Joint Session of Congress.  The President’s only reaction has been to disparage American investigators and the Intelligence Community, and to cast journalists’ reporting on this issue as “enemies of the American people.”  It is about time he takes this seriously.

The American people deserve to know the facts.  They deserve a full and fair investigation, free from any political influence.  I have repeatedly called on Attorney General Sessions, who was one of President Trump’s top advisors during the campaign, to recuse himself and to appoint a special counsel to conduct the investigation.  Earlier this week, he said “I would recuse myself on anything that I should recuse myself on.”  He said this morning he would recuse himself “whenever it’s appropriate.”  This is a ludicrous response.

Recusal is not optional here.  It is required by very clear Justice Department regulations.  And it is required in order to maintain a semblance of integrity in this investigation.  The Attorney General must recuse himself because, as stated clearly in Department rules, he is obviously “closely identified” with the President and the Trump campaign due to his “service as a principal adviser.”  That is the rule, and it accurately describes the relationship between Attorney General Sessions and President Trump.

This investigation must be led by someone who—in both appearance and reality—is impartial and removed from politics.  That does not describe someone who was in the trenches of a political campaign with the subjects of the investigation, while they were allegedly engaged in the very activity under investigation.  And it certainly does not describe someone who misled Congress about his own activities that have been implicated in the investigation.

This is not a close call.  For the good of the country, the Attorney General needs to step aside. We need an independent investigation, and we need answers.

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David Carle: 202-224-3693