Several Republicans lawmakers on Thursday sought to defend Attorney General Jeff Sessions from charges that he spoke with Russian officials about Donald Trump's presidential campaign, but nonetheless agreed that Sessions would likely have to recuse himself from any investigation into how Russia may have influenced the 2016 election.
Sessions has admitted to meeting with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak twice last year, even though he told senators in January that he had no contact with Russians. The Trump administration has said those meetings are routine and were related to Sessions' duties as a senator, and some Republicans took up that defense Thursday morning.
"Sounds like he was acting as a member of congress, in his position," Rep. Robert Pittenger, R-N.C., told the Washington Examiner. "I meet with ambassadors all the time."
Pittenger said he has met with Kislyak.
"I chair a congressional task force on terrorism," Pittenger said. "That's our job."
Sessions himself indicated he would recuse himself from investigations when "appropriate." Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., reacted by saying he would take Sessions at his word that he handle the issue the right way.
"The Attorney General has said he would recuse himself when needed and I trust him to make what he feels is the appropriate decision as to his involvement in any investigation into Russian active measures and the 2016 election," Burr said.
But others were more specific in saying that Sessions' failure to answer more specifically about contacts with Russia during his January committee hearing means he should remove himself from any future investigations into Russia.
"I don't think that there is any criminal activity here," said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla. "I find it impossible to believe that somehow Jeff Sessions either colluded with the Russians to impact an election or was manipulated by the Russians, and that to me is the underlying assumption about all of this."
But Cole added, "I have a lot of faith in Jeff Sessions. I think he'll do the right thing. If there is an investigation, he probably shouldn't be the person leading it."
Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, agreed.
"I think he's being unfairly targeted because I don't think he's committed perjury," Labrador told the Washington Examiner. "But the fact that, now he's going to be part of the investigation, if the FBI determines that there is criminal action, he probably should recuse himself."
Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., who is among the most moderate of Republicans, at first said he wasn't sure if Sessions needed to recuse himself but after a few moments said, "I'm kind of leaning toward recusal."
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said Sessions should both recuse himself from any future investigation into Russia's interference with and "further clarify" his confirmation testimony "because of how he answered the question.
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, issued a statement calling for Sessions to recuse himself. "I think it would be best for him and for the country to recuse himself from the DOJ Russia probe," he said.