By Ryan Teague Beckwith
March 2, 2017

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign over reports that he met with the Russian ambassador during the presidential campaign.

Speaking at a press conference on Capitol Hill, the New York Democrat said that Sessions was not forthcoming about his meetings when he testified at his confirmation hearing about contacts with Russia.

“Because the Department of Justice should be above reproach for the good of the country, Attorney General Sessions should resign,” he said.

Read the complete remarks from Schumer’s press conference.

SCHUMER: OK. Good morning, everyone. Sorry I’m late.

All right. Last night, when I read the revelations regarding Attorney General Sessions’ contact with the Russian ambassador, and his decision to mislead Congress about those contacts, I felt a knot in the pit of my stomach. I worried about the future of our country with foreign influence in our elections. It goes to the very wellspring of our democracy.

For weeks, I have said that Attorney General Sessions needs to recuse himself from any investigation into contact between the president and his associates on the campaign and transition, and Russia. For weeks, I made clear that I believe Attorney General Sessions’ close relationship with the Trump campaign requires that he recuse himself from the executive branch investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.

It’s a matter of Department of Justice guidelines that I’ve read to you several times that are very clear. The guidelines are clear as day. Yet Attorney General Sessions has demurred. The information reported last night makes it clear beyond the shadow of a doubt that Attorney General Sessions cannot possibly lead an investigation into Russian interference in our elections or come anywhere near it.

With these revelations, he may very well become the subject of it. It would be of Alice in Wonderland quality if this administration were to sanction him to investigate himself. Recusal should have been given, but this goes beyond that. He had weeks — Attorney General Sessions had weeks to correct the record that he made before the Judiciary Committee, but he let the record stand.

There cannot be even the scintilla of doubt about the impartiality and fairness of the attorney general, the top law enforcement official of the land. After this, it’s clear Attorney General Sessions does not meet that test. Because the Department of Justice should be above reproach for the good of the country, Attorney General Sessions should resign.

But whatever one’s views are on resignation, the most important thing we must do is ensure the integrity of the investigation. Has it already been compromised? What can we do to ensure it moves forward in a way that ultimately leads to the unvarnished truth?

To that end, I am calling on three things — sorry. To that end, I am calling for three things today.

SCHUMER: First, the Justice Department must immediately appoint a special prosecutor. Given that Attorney General Sessions’ impartiality is compromised, that responsibility will fall to the Acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente, who is a career civil servant, originally appointed U.S. attorney by President Obama. It is incumbent upon the acting deputy attorney general to select a special prosecutor, an individual who is beyond reproach, completely impartial, without any significant ties to either political party.

The choice for special prosecutor, will be scrutinized. Even the hint of partiality in that choice, even the hint that this person will not be able to get to the bottom of these troubling questions, would be disqualifying. The prosecutor must be of great experience and unimpeachable impartiality. Now, this is not just common sense. This is what the Justice Department regulations require.

They say that a special counsel should be appointed when a standard investigation, quote, these are the — the Justice Department’s words, when a standard investigation would, quote, “Present a conflict of interest for the department or other extraordinary circumstances and it would be in the public interest to appoint an outside special council.”

The regulations also require that a special council be a lawyer with a reputation for integrity and impartial decision-making. There cannot even be the shred of a connection between the attorney general, Mr. Sessions, and this Department of Justice investigation into the events of 2016. Second, if the Justice Department drags its feet and refuses to appoint a special prosecutor or selects someone with insufficient independence, there is another route.

We will then urge Senator McConnell and Speaker Ryan to work with Democrats to create a new and improved version of the Independent Counsel Law which would give a three-judge panel the authority to appoint an independent counsel. This was a law that was on the books, put in place after Watergate to avoid a repeat of events like the Saturday Night Massacre.

It was designed for this purpose. Unfortunately, it was not drafted with enough constraints. Congress allowed the authority to expire after Ken Starr’s investigation into Whitewater went out of control. Ken Starr went too far. He tested the boundaries of the authority he was given. The law, the original Independent Counsel Law went too far. Sorry — the law, the Independent Counsel Law was not drafted tightly enough. But in this case, cognizant and wary of this history, we would work to craft a narrow authority with specific guidelines for this investigation to prevent this from becoming a political witch hunt. We hope that if the administration fails in its responsibility, that Senator McConnell and Speaker Ryan will rise to theirs.

SCHUMER: Finally, third, the inspector general of the Department of Justice must immediately begin an investigation into the attorney general’s involvement in this matter thus far to discover if the investigation has already been compromised. The — the inspector general doesn’t need any permission from either anyone in the administration or the Congress, and he should go forward immediately.

We know the attorney general met with the president several weeks ago. What did they discuss? Have there been other contacts between the president or senior administration officials and the attorney general regarding this matter?

Have there been any attempts to interfere with the investigation in any way? Have the A.G. or his close associates personally managed the work of career officials at the Department of Justice or FBI in the course of the investigation?

The inspector general has the ability, the right and the obligation to find out answers to these questions and more.

The revelations that we learned about last night are extremely troubling and raise even more questions about the president and his associates’ contacts with Russia.

Did the president know about the meetings between then-Senator Sessions and the Russian ambassador? Were these the only two meetings between the attorney — the now-attorney general and the Russian ambassador or other Russian officials? Did the attorney general disclose these meetings during the FBI background check for his nomination?

There has been revelation after revelation, mistruth after mistruth, stories shifting like quicksand. If there is truly no there there, why won’t they tell the truth?

The bottom line is we have an obligation to get to the truth. We must evaluate the scope of Russia’s interference in our elections and assess if agents of their government have penetrated to the highest level of our government. Nothing less than the sanctity of our dear democratic process, the primacy of rule of law, and the integrity of our executive branch is at stake.

We now know the only way that this will happen is if an independent, impartial, special prosecutor who has no attachment to this administration conducts this investigation. If the administration is unwilling or unable to manage that, Congress should reinstitute the law allowing us to bring in a special counsel to do it for them.

Ready for your questions.

Yes, just one?

QUESTION: Leader Schumer, why isn’t it enough for him to recuse himself? Why does he have to resign?

SCHUMER: Look, the attorney general is the chief law enforcement officer of the land and already his integrity and independence have been questioned. It would be better for the country if he’d resign.

QUESTION: But is there something wrong…

SCHUMER: The main point I am making here, is we need an investigation to get to the bottom of this. Better for the country if he resigns, but let’s get a real investigation going.

What were you gonna say?

QUESTION: I was just gonna say, is there something inappropriate about a senator meeting with the Russian ambassador?

SCHUMER: There’s nothing inappropriate with a senator meeting with the Russian ambassador. There is something very inappropriate to dramatically mislead Congress.

SCHUMER: He said he didn’t remember afterwards. But it was in the record for weeks afterwards, and you can be sure he was thoroughly briefed for this hearing. It was obvious which — with everything that was swirling about, that this question would come up. It’s not a question of — you wonder about “I didn’t remember.”

Yes, in the back.

QUESTION: I wonder if I could follow up on that? The question that Senator Franken asked Senator Sessions at the time has been replayed over and over on cable (inaudible). (inaudible) not nebulous enough (inaudible)…

SCHUMER: Look…

QUESTION: … (inaudible) crystal clear that (inaudible)…

SCHUMER: No.

QUESTION: … (inaudible) ever (inaudible) Russians?

SCHUMER: Look, there is enough doubt about whether Senator Sessions told the truth at his hearing to have an investigation of it. And the standard for remaining attorney general, and certainly for conducting investigations, is not just did you break the law. You have to be above reproach.

Yes?

QUESTION: During the 2016 campaign, Senators Manchin, McCaskill, other Senate Democrats have met with the Russian ambassador. How would you characterize that? Is that a level of concern to you?

SCHUMER: No. There’s nothing wrong with meeting with the Russian ambassador. The question that just keeps coming up again and again and again with this investigation is: If there was nothing wrong, why didn’t you come clean and tell the whole truth?

QUESTION: (inaudible), do you think that Senator Sessions lied to Congress? I mean, it’s perjury (inaudible).

SCHUMER: OK. I am not a — I am not a legal expert on perjury. And I leave that to the experts. It was definitely extremely misleading, to say the least, as to what he did. And what bothers me just as much is every nominee goes through the record afterwards and they make corrections. If the next day he would have said I forgot and here’s what I said, it’s a lot different than letting the record stand, especially with all the questions swirling about.

No — next. Go ahead.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: The White House says that Jeff Sessions met with the ambassador in an official capacity as a member of the Senate Arms Services Committee. They say that’s consistent with his testimony. Can it be (inaudible)?

SCHUMER: I don’t think that is the way most people were interpret it. And that’s why we need to have a thorough investigation.

QUESTION: They also say (inaudible).

SCHUMER: Yes?

(CROSSTALK)

SCHUMER: I didn’t hear the (inaudible).

(CROSSTALK)

SCHUMER: Is a what?

QUESTION: (inaudible)

SCHUMER: They say that about everything. It’s getting tired. If they’re interested in the truth and they’re not worried about the truth, they know how to get to the bottom of it in a convincing way.

QUESTION: Senator Schumer, you are a member of the Gang of Eight (inaudible) and several of your colleagues (inaudible) in the last couple of days and they have declared we’ve seen no evidence that, you know, any of these contacts between the Russian campaign — excuse me — the Russians and the Trump campaign ever happened. I’m wondering, have you seen (inaudible)?

SCHUMER: I am not commenting on anything I heard as part of the Gang of Eight.

Next question?

QUESTION: (inaudible) investigation (inaudible) lied before Congress (inaudible) involved (inaudible). And do you — do you expect (inaudible) involved (inaudible) and are you requesting the FBI to investigate (inaudible)?

SCHUMER: We’ll wait. As I said, I think we need a special prosecutor to look into all of these allegations. That is the right way to go. I was heartened to hear now that a few Republicans have evidently called for this. And the longer they all delay, the worse it will be for the country and for them.

Last question. QUESTION: (inaudible) the Russians, of course, (inaudible) characterization (inaudible) reports that the Russian ambassador was somehow involved in recruiting spies. Do you have anything to say about that?

SCHUMER: No, that’s not the point. The point here is Jeff Sessions should have said he met with the ambassador when questioned about it. He could have then said what happened at the meeting. Nobody knows.

QUESTION: (inaudible) Dana Boente (inaudible). Are you OK with that?

SCHUMER: No, because he’s in a chain of command.

First of all, will Sessions still be in charge of the attorney general? We need a special prosecutor. This has to be above reproach. There’s been allegation after allegation, question after question. A special prosecutor is what’s called for and if the administration has nothing to hide, they won’t object.

Thank you, everybody.

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