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Trump calls criticism of Sessions a ‘witch hunt’

WASHINGTON — The Latest on Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ talks with the Russian ambassador (all times local):

9:38 p.m.

President Donald Trump is praising his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, and accusing Democrats of conducting a “witch hunt” in their criticism of Sessions’ testimony about his contact with the Russian ambassador during the presidential campaign.

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Sessions on Thursday recused himself from any investigation into Russian meddling in America’s 2016 presidential election. He acted after it was revealed that he twice spoke with the Russian ambassador during the campaign and failed to say so when pressed by Congress. Some Democrats are accusing him of lying and calling for him to step down.

In a statement Thursday night, Trump calls Session “an honest man” who did nothing wrong. The president says Sessions “could have stated his response more accurately, but it was clearly not intentional.”

Trump says Democrats are trying to save face after losing the election, are overplaying their hand and have lost their grip on reality.

Trump says the real story is all of the “illegal leaks” of classified or other information. He concludes, “This is a total witch hunt!”

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6:40 p.m.

A White House official says President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and the man who would become national security adviser, Michael Flynn, met with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. in December.

The official calls the sit-down at New York’s Trump Tower a “brief courtesy meeting.”

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Flynn was fired last month because he misled Vice President Mike Pence and other White House officials about his contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

The Trump team’s public accounting of Flynn’s conversations with the ambassador have changed multiple times. The White House did not confirm the in-person meeting — or Kushner’s contact with the ambassador — until Thursday.

The official isn’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly and insists on anonymity.

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6:18 p.m.

A former foreign policy adviser to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign spoke with Russia’s ambassador to the United States over the summer.

A person with knowledge of the meeting says Carter Page talked with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at the same event where now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke with the envoy.

Several foreign diplomats attended the Heritage Foundation event on the sidelines of the Republican National Convention in July.

Page briefly served as a foreign policy adviser to Trump’s campaign.

In a statement, Page doesn’t confirm the discussion took place but says he “never did anything improper in my activities related to Russia, both last year and throughout the quarter century that I have been traveling to that country.”

The person with knowledge of the discussion isn’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly and insists on anonymity.

–by Julie Pace

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5:15 p.m.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is sending a letter to a Senate panel to explain his testimony under oath following revelations he twice met with the Russian ambassador and didn’t say so when pressed by lawmakers.

That’s the word from Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, who says he has talked to Sessions.

Sessions said Thursday afternoon that he will recuse himself from an investigation into Russian meddling in the presidential election.

Grassley says he had asked Sessions to send the letter “so we can put this issue to bed once and for all.”

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi says Sessions’ recusal isn’t enough and has repeated an earlier call for his resignation.

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4:35 p.m.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions says he should not be involved in investigating a presidential campaign he had a role in.

Sessions made the comment at a Thursday news conference where he announced he will recuse himself from any investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. The move came after revelations that Sessions twice spoke to the Russia’s mbassador to the U.S. during the presidential campaign.

Sessions rejected any suggestion that he tried to mislead anyone about his contacts with the Russian, saying, “That is not my intent. That is not correct.”

But he says he “should have slowed down and said ‘but I did meet with one Russian official a couple of times.’ “

Acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente will handle any matters related to investigation.

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4:20 p.m.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions says he didn’t lie when he testified during his confirmation hearing that he had no interaction with Russians during the 2016 election campaign.

At a news conference Thursday, he continued to draw a distinction between his conversations with the Russian ambassador in his role as a senator and his role in the Trump campaign.

Still, Sessions is recusing himself from a federal investigation into Russian interference in the election. He says he is doing so at the urging of senior career officials in the Justice Department.

Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente will handle any matters related to the investigation.

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4:10 p.m.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions says he will recuse himself from a federal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 White House election.

Sessions faced mounting pressure from both Democrats and Republicans to step aside after revelations that he had twice talked with Moscow’s U.S. envoy during the presidential campaign. Sessions’ conversations with the ambassador seem to contradict his sworn statements to Congress during his confirmation hearings.

The Justice Department said there was nothing improper about the meetings. Sessions insisted he never met with Russian officials to discuss the campaign.

Sessions said this week he would recuse himself when appropriate.

When attorneys general have recused themselves in the past, investigations were handled by lower-ranking but still senior political-appointees within the Justice Department.

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4:05 p.m.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer is defending Attorney General Jeff Sessions, saying he was simply doing his job as a former senator when he spoke with the Russian ambassador.

Spicer tells reporters aboard Air Force Once that Sessions did not mislead in sworn statements he made to Congress during his confirmation hearing.

At the hearing in January, Sessions was asked about allegations of contact between Russia and Trump aides during the 2016 election.

Sessions said he was “unaware” that anyone from the Trump campaign had been in touch with the Russian government — despite his own conversations.

Spicer said that Session had been asked the question with respect to Sessions’ role as a surrogate for the campaign — not his role as senator.

He argues conversations with ambassadors are part of regular Senate business.

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3:40 p.m.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is planning a news conference after revelations he had contact with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. during last year’s White House campaign.

The Justice Department’s Thursday afternoon news conference comes as Sessions faces mounting pressure to resign or recuse himself over his communications with the Russian envoy.

Sessions spoke twice with the ambassador during the campaign. Those conversations appear to contradict Sessions’ testimony to Congress during his confirmation hearings.

Democrats are demanding that Sessions resign, while Democratic leaders and some Republicans say Sessions should step aside from a federal investigation into Russian interference in the election.

The Justice Department says there was nothing inappropriate about Sessions’ contacts. Sessions says he never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign.

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2:40 p.m.

President Donald Trump says he “wasn’t aware” that his attorney general –former Sen. Jeff Sessions — had contact with the Russian ambassador during last year’s White House campaign.

Trump made the comment in Newport News, Virginia, before giving a speech aboard the USS Gerald Ford.

Sessions spoke twice with Russia’s ambassador to the United States during the campaign. Those conversations appear to contradict Sessions’ testimony to Congress during his confirmation hearings.

Democrats are demanding that Sessions resign over the contact, while Democratic leaders and some Republicans say Sessions should step aside from a federal investigation into Russian interference in the election.

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2:15 p.m.

President Donald Trump says he has “total” confidence in Attorney General Jeff Sessions as calls mount for the attorney general to resign or recuse himself over his contact with a Russian envoy.

Trump made the comment in Newport News Thursday. Asked if Sessions should recuse himself, he said “I don’t think so.”

Democrats are demanding that Sessions resign after the revelation that he had twice talked with Moscow’s envoy to the U.S. during the campaign.

Sessions’ conversations with the ambassador seem to contradict his sworn statements to Congress during his confirmation hearings.

Some Republicans are joining Democrats in calling on Sessions to step aside from a federal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 White House election.

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1:20 p.m.

The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee says he still doesn’t have any evidence that people associated with Donald Trump’s presidential campaign had improper contacts with Russian officials.

Rep. Devin Nunes (NOO’-nehs) made the comment to reporters after committee members heard from FBI Director James Comey (KOH’-mee).

Nunes says the only contact he’s aware of involves Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and the Russian ambassador to the United States.

The top Democrat on the committee, Adam Schiff, says the FBI director hasn’t provided a full counterintelligence briefing to committee members.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions also met with the Russian ambassador during the campaign — when Sessions was a senator and an adviser to the Trump campaign.

The Justice Department says there was nothing improper about the meetings.

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