WASHINGTON >> President Donald Trump directed his White House counsel to tell Attorney General Jeff Sessions to not recuse himself from the Justice Department’s investigation into potential ties between Russia and the Trump campaign, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The conversation between Don McGahn, the president’s White House counsel, and Sessions took place on the president’s orders and occurred just before the attorney general announced that he would step aside from the ongoing inquiry into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, according to a person with knowledge of the interaction. Two other people confirmed details of the conversation between McGahn and Sessions.
All three people spoke on condition of anonymity to The Associated Press to avoid publicly discussing an ongoing investigation.
The episode is known to special counsel Robert Mueller and his team of prosecutors and is likely of interest to them as they look into whether Trump’s actions as president, including the May firing of FBI Director James Comey, amount to improper efforts to obstruct the Russia investigation. Investigators recently concluded a round of interviews with current and former White House officials, including McGahn.
The New York Times first reported that Trump had McGahn lobby Sessions against a recusal.
Sessions announced on March 2 that he would recuse himself from that probe. He said at the time that he should not oversee an investigation into a campaign for which he was an active and vocal supporter, though the recusal also followed the revelation that he had had two previously undisclosed interactions during the 2016 campaign with the Russian ambassador to the United States.
But soon before the announcement, McGahn spoke to Sessions by phone and urged him against recusing himself from the investigation.
During the conversation, according to people familiar with the matter, McGahn argued to Sessions that there was no reason or basis at that time for him to recuse. One person said McGahn also told him that recusal would do nothing to resolve concerns over whether Sessions had given a misleading answer at his confirmation hearing weeks earlier when he said he had not had any contacts with Russians.
Sessions ultimately declined the urging, and McGahn accepted the conclusion of officials who believed that Sessions should recuse.