White House does not rule out Sessions recusal on Russia probes

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House on Sunday did not rule out that Attorney General Jeff Sessions may recuse himself from Justice Department investigations into allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions holds his first meeting with heads of federal law enforcement components at the Justice Department. in Washington U.S., February 9, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a deputy White House press secretary, said congressional investigations into possible Russian hacking of Democratic groups would have to run their course before Sessions needed to decide whether to step aside from the FBI probes.

Sessions was a top adviser to President Donald Trump, a Republican, during the 2016 presidential campaign.

“I wasn’t saying that he shouldn’t recuse himself or that he should,” Sanders told ABC’s “This Week.” “My point is I don’t think we’re there yet. Let’s work through this process.”

U.S. intelligence analysts have concluded that Russia tried to help Trump win the White House by discrediting Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and her party through cyber attacks. President Barack Obama, a Democrat, expelled Russian diplomats in retaliation in December.

Moscow has denied the accusations.

The FBI is investigating alleged Russian election-related hacking and financial transactions by Russian people and companies believed to have links to associates of Trump, according to current and former government officials.

Trump has dismissed the controversy about ties between his aides and Russia as a “ruse” perpetrated by a hostile news media.

“Russia talk is FAKE NEWS put out by the Dems, and played up by the media, in order to mask the big election defeat and the illegal leaks,” Trump wrote on Twitter on Sunday.

Trump fired his national security adviser, Michael Flynn, three weeks into the new administration after disclosures surfaced that Flynn had discussed U.S. sanctions on Russia with the Russian ambassador to the United States before Trump took office and misled Vice President Mike Pence about the conversations.

Democrats have been pushing for an independent investigation into whether there were links between the Trump campaign team and Russian officials.

“The attorney general must recuse himself,” House of Representatives Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said on ABC.

Republican lawmakers echoed the White House, saying the investigations must take their course.

Senator Tom Cotton said it was premature to talk about a special prosecutor. “If we get down that road, that’s a decision that Attorney General Sessions can make at the time,” he told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Alistair Bell and Peter Cooney