Donald Trump's Attorney General Jeff Sessions steps aside from Russia probe

Saphora Smith
Jeff Sessions has recused himself from the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election: Andrew Harnik/AP

Donald Trump’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said he will step aside from a federal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Mr Sessions faced mounting pressure from both Democrats and Republicans to withdraw after revelations that he had twice talked with Moscow's US envoy during the presidential campaign.

These meetings took place at the height of what US intelligence officials claim was a Russian cyber-campaign to derail the presidential race.

Mr Sessions's 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 and Mr Sessions insisted he never met Russian officials to discuss the campaign.

Mr Sessions said this week he would recuse himself - or step aside - 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.

Mr 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."

The attorney general said he made his decision after his staff recommended that he recuse himself from any investigation related to the Trump campaign, since he had been involved in that campaign.

Mr Sessions added that his announcement "should not be interpreted as confirmation of the existence of any investigation."

The White House has stood behind Mr Sessions, though officials said they first learned about his contacts with the ambassador from a reporter on Wednesday night.

Mr Trump said he had "total" confidence in him and did not think he needed to step aside from the investigation.

It comes weeks after Mr Trump's national security adviser Michael Flynn resigned over his alleged ties to Russia.

Mr Flynn made several phone calls to the Russian Ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak, before Mr Trump took office.

It was suggested that he had contravened diplomatic protocol by discussing the rollback of sanctions brought by President Obama against Vladimir Putin’s government.

Mr Flynn admitted to misleading Vice President Mike Pence over the affair.