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Rep. Elijah Cummings: Sessions Should Resign Over Russian Conversations


The U.S. attorney general is defending himself against reports that he met with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. in the run-up to the U.S. presidential election. The Washington Post is reporting, and NPR has confirmed, that Jeff Sessions met twice with the ambassador last year. But Sessions said in his confirmation hearing he had no encounters with Russian officials about the presidential campaign. Sessions signed on as an early surrogate for Donald Trump, and he was his most vocal supporter in Congress. As attorney general, Sessions is overseeing the FBI's investigation into Russia's interference in the election.

Elijah Cummings is a congressman from Maryland. He's the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, and he is now calling on the attorney general to resign. Congressman Elijah Cummings joins me on the line now. Thank you so much for being with us.

ELIJAH CUMMINGS: It's good to be with you.

MARTIN: You see this as an offense that should cost Sessions his job. Why?

CUMMINGS: Yes because this is the number one law enforcement officer in the country. He sets the example for U.S. attorneys all over this country. And he also is the person who is in charge of the FBI. One of the problems that I see with all of these investigations - it seems as if they're being tainted. And one of the things that the American people want is integrity in institutions like the FBI and the CIA.

MARTIN: But shouldn't there be...

CUMMINGS: And when you have the number one law enforcement officer in the country coming before his colleagues under oath and saying that he had no contact with the Russians and then you find out that that's absolutely untrue and then for weeks - for weeks, Rachel - he does not even mention it, even as he sees Flynn go - General Flynn be fired...

MARTIN: Mike Flynn, former national security adviser.

CUMMINGS: ...For lying. You have to begin to wonder where is the integrity?

MARTIN: Well, let me ask you this because Jeff Sessions is saying, listen, in his capacity as a senator on the Armed Services Committee, he met with a whole lot of ambassadors, and the Russian ambassador was no different. He had meetings with him.

CUMMINGS: We all meet with a lot of other people.

MARTIN: And we don't know...

CUMMINGS: But let me tell you why - how this works.

MARTIN: We don't know the content of his conversations, so before asking him to step down, should you just wait for an investigation to happen?

CUMMINGS: Well, I would love to see an investigation, but in the meantime, we've got other investigations going on. And so we've got a Mr. Sessions who is going to have to recuse himself at a minimum. So he's - he walks in to some of the most important investigations taking place in our country's history crippled already because he has to recuse himself. And again, I don't mind listening to what he has to say, but it's already demonstrably clear that he was not honest with the American people. Apparently, he wasn't honest with his colleagues, and that's a real problem.

MARTIN: And again, we should point out, he maintains he did nothing wrong, that he was asked one question. He chose to respond by saying that he had had no conversations with Russian officials about the campaign. And we still don't know the contents of the conversations.

CUMMINGS: That is correct. Well, let me go back to something you just asked. You know, let me tell you how this works. If let's say, for example, he found out - he misremembered, whatever that means, that he had these conversations or he forgot them. He has a staff that could come to him and say, Attorney General, you know, you said that you'd had no contacts. Maybe you need to go back and correct the record. That happens all the time. He had literally weeks to do that - weeks. And if your memory is not jarred (ph), if his memory was not jarred at the time that Flynn was going through what he went through, I don't know what's going to jar his memory.

MARTIN: Just with the time we have remaining, Congressman, let me ask you - you said that at the very least Jeff Sessions should recuse himself from the DOJ investigation into Russia's interference in the election.

CUMMINGS: That's right.

MARTIN: Would you like to see an independent prosecutor established? I mean, is that something you're pushing for instead of leaving this in the hands of the DOJ?

CUMMINGS: Well, my - for months now - literally months - I've been pushing for a 9/11-type of investigation and panel, which would be made up of no senators, no members of Congress, and it would be an independent group of people, reputable citizens, who would come together, have subpoena power, come up with findings, figure out what happened here and try to make recommendations as to how it should never happen again. The independent prosecutor may be a way of also doing that. But I think that - I have legislation with Congressman Swalwell of California that has been out now for two months asking for that independent investigation. People like Lindsey Graham and others have been talking about the same type of investigation.

So I'm hopeful that we will get to the point. But the main point here, Rachel, is we need investigations with integrity. I mean, we've got - it seem like we've gotten away from that and as far as President Trump is concerned, I would say to him let the system work as it will. You don't have to - I mean, I understand people trying to defend their employees. But at the same time, this is not about Trump - President Trump. This is about something that Sessions did. And so he needs to let the...

MARTIN: Congressman, let me ask you this...

CUMMINGS: ...Process roll as it should.

MARTIN: Congressman, let me ask you this - at this point, you know, it's the same man. It's the Russian ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak. This is...


MARTIN: This is the man who Mike Flynn had had phone conversations with, and eventually that led to Mike Flynn's firing. This is now the man who Jeff Sessions has reportedly had these meetings with. At this point, would you like to see a more fulsome revelation of whomever has had conversations with Kislyak? Does everyone need to divulge that at this point?

CUMMINGS: Yeah, we really do need to know that. I don't know, though, that we'll ever be able to get that information. Keep in mind, the experts tell us that he is Russia's number one spy in the United States. So yeah, we would love to hear what he has to say. But again, we have gotten so far away from integrity in relations in - with regard to these investigations. And we're a better country than that, and we've got to get back to a new sense of normalcy and allow the process to roll forward.

MARTIN: Elijah Cummings is a congressman from Maryland and the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee. Thank you so much for talking with us this morning.

CUMMINGS: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUGGENZ' "BREAK EVEN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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