MONTPELIER — Vermont’s congressional delegation joined a growing chorus of Democratic voices Thursday raising questions about U.S. Attorney General Jeff Session’s meetings with a Russian diplomat during last year’s presidential campaign.
Sessions, a former senator from Alabama, told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this year during his confirmation hearings that he did not have contact with any Russian government officials.
But Sessions has since acknowledged meeting with the Russian ambassador to the United States twice during the presidential campaign when he served as a surrogate and adviser to President Donald Trump.
Sessions was already under fire from Democrats over his refusal to recuse himself from a Department of Justice probe into Russian meddling in the presidential election between Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
Late Thursday afternoon, after top Republican lawmakers joined the call for recusal, the attorney general complied.
Now, a number of Democrats in Congress, including the leadership, are seeking more than a recusal. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., the state’s lone member of the House, is among them.
“Attorney General Sessions, while under oath, at best misled the Senate Judiciary Committee about his contacts with Russian officials,” Welch said in a Facebook post. “At worst, he committed perjury. He can no longer serve as America’s chief law enforcement officer, let alone oversee an investigation into Trump campaign officials’ contacts with Russians during the election. He should resign from office immediately.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who ran for president as a Democrat, also called Thursday for Sessions to resign his post.
“Millions ofAmericans are deeply concerned about the possibility that the Trump administration colluded with President (Vladimir) Putin and the Russian authoritarian government to win the presidential election,” Sanders said in a statement.
“It is deeply disturbing that then-Sen. Jeff Sessions, under oath at a Senate confirmation hearing, falsely denied having met with the Russian ambassador,” Sanders added.
He called into question the ability of the president’s Justice Department under Sessions to properly investigate allegations that the Russian government conducted a covert mission to undermine the U.S. election.
“We need a Justice Department that will give us the facts about Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election and their ties to the Trump campaign, not one led by someone who deliberately misled Congress about his own communications with the Russian government,” Sanders said.
“We also must find out what President Trump knew about meetings involving his campaign and the Russians,” he continued. “Attorney General Sessions should resign and a special prosecutor should be appointed to give the American people credible answers about Russia’s involvement in the U.S. election.”
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was more reserved, saying Sessions should recuse himself from the election probe. Leahy said Sessions “has shown he cannot be allowed to conduct the investigation.”
“My message to the Attorney General is this: No more excuses, recuse yourself and appoint a Special Counsel immediately, and come clean about any contacts you had with the Russians,” he said in a statement.
Leahy did indicate, however, that he is interested in determining if Sessions committed perjury when answering questions from the Judiciary Committee.
“I am deeply concerned that Attorney General Sessions, under oath, misled the Senate Judiciary Committee in response to direct questions from myself and Senator Franken about his contacts with Russian officials.” Leahy said.
Even Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, whenasked about Sessions, suggested that the attorney general should resign if he perjured himself during his confirmation hearings.
“If he made statements under oath that were inaccurate or incorrect, I know what I would do,” the governor told reporters at his weekly news conference Thursday. “You don’t lie to Congress.”
Scott added, “I’m not saying that he did, but if he did then I think anyone would do the right thing.”