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Jeff Sessions was right to recuse himself. Here’s why

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, asks a questions of attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015, during the Senate Judiciary Committee's confirmation hearing. If confirmed, Lynch would replace Attorney General Eric Holder, who announced his resignation in September after leading the Justice Department for six years. She is now the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York. This is the first nomination hearing under the new Republican majority. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s decision to recuse himself from the FBI investigation into the Trump campaign’s alleged contacts with the Russians was absolutely correct.

There are numerous precedents for an Attorney General to recuse him or herself from an investigation.  Doing so is the proper way to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.

Following the accusations made against Sessions, it is a virtual certainty that he will at some point have to be interviewed by the FBI about his meetings with Russian ambassador Kislyak.  Though this interview will come up with nothing – because there is nothing to come up with – quite obviously Sessions cannot be both the subject of an investigation and the person the investigation reports to.

This is the point Jeff Sessions made in his press conference today, and in his statement, which is provided in full below

During the course of the confirmation proceedings on my nomination to be Attorney General, I advised the Senate Judiciary Committee that ‘[i]f a specific matter arose where I believed my impartiality might reasonably be questioned, I would consult with Department ethics officials regarding the most appropriate way to proceed.’

During the course of the last several weeks, I have met with the relevant senior career Department officials to discuss whether I should recuse myself from any matters arising from the campaigns for President of the United States.

Having concluded those meetings today, I have decided to recuse myself from any existing or future investigations of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for President of the United States.

I have taken no actions regarding any such matters, to the extent they exist.

This announcement should not be interpreted as confirmation of the existence of any investigation or suggestive of the scope of any such investigation.

Consistent with the succession order for the Department of Justice, Acting Deputy Attorney General and U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia Dana Boente shall act as and perform the functions of the Attorney General with respect to any matters from which I have recused myself to the extent they exist.

It is important to stress that the reason Jeff Sessions is recusing himself from the investigation is not because he met with Russian ambassador Kislyak.  He has emphatically denied that he did anything inappropriate in his two meetings with ambassador Kislyak and there is no reason to doubt his word about it.  There is also no reason to doubt his repeated insistence that he met Kislyak purely in his capacity of a United States Senator and a member of the Senate’s Armed Services Committee and not in connection with Donald Trump’s election campaign.

In any sane world these meetings, one of which happened when Sessions met Kislyak at an event arranged by the Heritage Foundation with the other happening in his office in the presence of several of his aides, should never have been brought up at all, and should certainly not be the cause for Sessions to recuse himself from an investigation into the wholly separate issue of whether or not there were illicit contacts between Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia.

However the fact remains that the subject of these meetings has now been brought up, inappropriate and unsatisfactory though that was, and there is now no avoiding the issue.

In light of this Sessions was right to recuse himself for the reasons I have set out above, and realistically as a lawyer he would have known that he had no alternative.

The issue of the supposed illicit contacts between the Trump administration and the Russians will presumably rumble on until the FBI investigation finally reports to the Justice Department, probably in a few months time.

In the meantime it is not only poisoning the political atmosphere in the US, distracting and polarising Americans even further over an issue which has no reality, but it is affecting the proper functioning of the US government as shown by the way the US’s Attorney General has been forced for no substantive reason but purely because of hysteria and rumour to recuse himself from an investigation that should never have been set up in the first place.

As for the campaign against Sessions, I doubt it will go much further, at least on the issue of his meetings with ambassador Kislyak, given that he did nothing wrong and that unlike General Flynn he has the President’s full support.

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