At least eight House Republicans who are Democratic targets in 2018 are calling on Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsMcCabe, Rosenstein spar over Russia probe Rosenstein takes fire from Republicans in heated testimony Rosenstein defends Mueller appointment, role on surveillance warrants MORE to recuse himself from any investigations into Russian involvement in Donald Trump’s presidential campaign as pressure mounts from both parties for him to step aside.
GOP Reps. Brian Mast (Fla.), Mike Coffman (Colo.), Martha McSally (Ariz.), Darrell Issa (Calif.), Ryan Costello (Pa.), Barbara Comstock (Va.) and Carlos Curbelo (Fla.) have all been named as targets by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). With the exception of freshman Mast, all are in districts won by Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWhite House accuses Biden of pushing ‘conspiracy theories’ with Trump election claim Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness Trayvon Martin’s mother Sybrina Fulton qualifies to run for county commissioner in Florida MORE in November.
Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.), a House Intelligence Committee member who is also on the DCCC list, also joined the calls.
All eight have said Sessions should recuse himself from any probes the Department of Justice (DOJ) conducts related to Russia, after reports emerged that he did not disclose to Congress contact he had with the country’s ambassador during the 2016 campaign.
Democrats are hoping they can link Republicans in swing districts to the president and harness the energy from anti-Trump backlash as they seek to regain the House majority next year.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzThe myth of the conservative bestseller Elijah Cummings, Democratic chairman and powerful Trump critic, dies at 68 House Oversight panel demands DeVos turn over personal email records MORE (R-Utah) have also called for Sessions to recuse himself and to clarify his statements before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
GOP Sens. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanSenate subcommittee: IRS should increase oversight of tax-prep companies in Free File program Senate report: Chinese telecom firms operated in US without proper oversight for decades GOP’s Obama-era probes fuel Senate angst MORE (Ohio) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsRepublicans prepare to punt on next COVID-19 relief bill Trump tweets spark fresh headache for Republicans Trump’s tweet on protester sparks GOP backlash MORE (Maine) did the same.
At issue is whether Sessions deliberately misled Congress during his confirmation hearings about contact with Russian officials.
Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenPolitical world mourns loss of comedian Jerry Stiller Maher to Tara Reade on timing of sexual assault allegation: ‘Why wait until Biden is our only hope?’ Democrats begin to confront Biden allegations MORE (D-Minn.) asked Sessions during his confirmation hearing to be attorney general what he would do if he learned of evidence that Trump campaign associates were in contact with the Russian government.
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“I’m not aware of any of those activities. I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians,” Sessions replied.
Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyCan he really do that? Yes, he probably can — because Congress let him Exclusive investigation on the coronavirus pandemic: Where was Congress? GOP’s Obama-era probes fuel Senate angst MORE (D-Vt.) also asked Sessions — via a written questionnaire — if he had been in contact with anyone connected to any part of the Russian government about the 2016 election before or after Election Day.
Sessions had a one-word answer: “No.”
However, The Washington Post first reported Wednesday night that he spoke with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. during the presidential race.
Sessions said earlier Thursday he would recuse himself if it’s “appropriate.”
Sessions “needs to clarify any misconceptions from his confirmation hearing on the matter,” Comstock, who represents a swing district in Northern Virginia that Clinton won by 9.9 points, said in a statement. “Attorneys General have recused themselves in the past like former Obama Administration Attorney General Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderTrump official criticizes ex-Clinton spokesman over defunding police tweet Obama to speak about George Floyd in virtual town hall GOP group launches redistricting site MORE in 2013.”
In May of that year, the Obama attorney general removed himself from involvement in a DOJ leak probe that secretly seized phone records of Associated Press journalists.
Curbelo, who represents a competitive South Florida district that Clinton won by 16.2 points, said Sessions’s alleged meetings with the Russian ambassador should also be a part of an investigation.
“Regardless of whether the Attorney General misspoke or misled at his Senate confirmation hearing, the Justice Department should include these alleged meetings in their investigation and Mr. Sessions should recuse himself from Justice Department activities related to the investigation,” Curbelo said in a statement.
Nevada’s Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerOn The Trail: Democrats plan to hammer Trump on Social Security, Medicare Lobbying World Democrats spend big to put Senate in play MORE — the most vulnerable GOP senator up for reelection in 2018 — became the third Senate Republican to call for Sessions’s recusal on Thursday afternoon. He also said the attorney general should “explain his interactions” with Russia’s envoy.
Heller is the only GOP senator up for reelection this cycle who represents a state won by Clinton. Democrats must defend 10 incumbents in states carried by Trump, and Heller will be the party’s best Senate pickup opportunity.
About an hour before Heller’s statement, the Nevada Democratic Party mounted pressure on him to break his silence and call on Sessions to resign.
Democrats are demanding Sessions step down from the Justice Department entirely.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said, “we are far past recusal” and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerOvernight Health Care: US showing signs of retreat in battle against COVID-19 | Regeneron begins clinical trials of potential coronavirus antibody treatment | CMS warns nursing homes against seizing residents’ stimulus checks Schumer requests briefing with White House coronavirus task force as cases rise Schumer on Trump’s tweet about 75-year-old protester: He ‘should go back to hiding in the bunker’ MORE (D-N.Y.) echoed a similar sentiment.
The House Democrats’ campaign arm argues that anything less than a call for resignation falls short.
“When it comes to lying under oath to Congress, recusal is not enough,” DCCC spokeswoman Meredith Kelly said. “Attorney General Sessions lied to Congress and the American people, and House Republicans should represent their constituents and call for his resignation. Full stop.”
No Republican has gone that far at this point.
Mast, who represents a district won by President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Warren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Esper orders ‘After Action Review’ of National Guard’s role in protests MORE but was considered competitive in 2016, was the first Republican to raise the specter of Sessions resigning.
“Jeff Sessions needs to immediately clarify his Senate testimony and recuse himself from any investigation into Russian ties. If he cannot commit to ensuring this process is completed with full transparency and integrity, he should resign,” Mast said in a statement.
Not all the Republicans facing competitive reelection bids next year have weighed in yet.
Requests for comment to lawmakers such as Reps. Will Hurd (Texas) and Steve Knight (Calif.) weren’t immediately returned.
Updated at 4:05 p.m.