You can watch a live stream of the press conference above.
Sessions issued a statement about his decision:
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.
Acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente, who is also the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, will act as and perform the functions of the Attorney General “with respect to any matters from which I have recused myself to extent they exist,” Sessions said.
Boente, a career prosecutor in the Justice Department, was named Acting Attorney General after Sally Yates was fired. He served in that role until Sessions was confirmed.
Some Democrats have called for Sessions to resign. A former Senator from Alabama, Sessions was the first member of the Senate to endorse President Donald Trump. Sessions was a controversial nominee because of allegations of racism from his past, but he was confirmed to be the country’s top law enforcement official in February.
The calls for Sessions to recuse himself from the Russia investigation intensified Wednesday night and Thursday morning after the Washington Post reported that Sessions spoke to Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislayk twice last year and did not disclose those contacts during confirmation hearings to become attorney general.
One of the meetings took place in September in Sessions’ office during what U.S. intelligence officials have called cyber campaign by Russia to disrupt the U.S. presidential race, the Post reports. He was asked by Senator Al Franken, D-Minnesota, during a Judiciary Committee hearing on January 10 what he would do if he learned of evidence anyone affiliated with Trump’s campaign communicated with Russia.
“I’m not aware of any of those activities,” he responded. He added: “I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians.”
He also responded to a written question from Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat, asking, “Several of the President-elect’s nominees or senior advisers have Russian ties. Have you been in contact with anyone connected to any part of the Russian government about the 2016 election, either before or after election day?” He responded, “no.”
Sessions is now overseeing the Justice Department and the FBI, which has been investigating the involvement of Russia in the election and possible ties between Russia and Trump’s campaign. He has previously resisted calls for him to recuse himself from the investigations.
On Thursday, he told NBC News, “I have not met with any Russians at any time to discuss any political campaign. And those remarks are unbelievable to me and are false. And I don’t have anything else to say about that.”
He also told the news network, “I have said whenever it’s appropriate, I will recuse myself. There’s no doubt about that.”
A spokesman for Sessions, Sarah Isgur Flores, said “there was absolutely nothing misleading about his answer,” because he was asked about “communications between Russia and the Trump campaign,” not about meetings he held in his role as a senator on the Armed Services Committee.
President Trump on Thursday stood by his attorney general.
“I don’t think so,” Trump said, when asked if Sessions should recuse himself. He said he “wasn’t aware of it at all,” when asked if he knew about Sessions’ contacts with the Russian ambassador.
Reporters also asked Trump if he thinks Session testified truthfully. “I think he probably did,” Trump responded.
He also said he has “total confidence” in Sessions.
Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters the question during the Judicial Committee testimony dealt with “his role as a campaign surrogate.” Spicer said the meeting was in his role as a U.S. Senator.
“He was literally conducting himself as a United States senator,” Spicer said. “This is what senators do. The question was about the campaign.”
Spicer said “there’s no there there.”