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Russia says Trump contacts uproar "resembles a witch hunt"

Attorney General Jeff Sessions during his confirmation hearing. 

CBS

MOSCOW -- Russia’s top diplomat says the uproar over U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ meetings with the Russian ambassador is a replay of McCarthyism.

Sessions recused himself Thursday from any probe that examines communications between President Donald Trump’s aides and Moscow following revelations that Sessions spoke twice with the Russian ambassador during the campaign and failed to say so to Congress.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov argued Friday that contacts with officials and lawmakers are part of any ambassador’s duties. He says the pressure on Sessions “strongly resembles a witch hunt or the times of McCarthyism, which we thought were long over in the United States as a civilized country.”

Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s led a hunt for communist traitors he believed worked in the government and the army.

Some Democrats are saying Sessions’ recusal from any future invesgitations is not enough, and they’re calling for a special prosecutor to look into the allegations of improper contacts with Russian officials by Sessions and other Trump associates.

Sessions, and President Trump, have used a similar defense for the attorney general’s actions to that offered by Lavrov on Friday, insisting his two encounters with Kislyak were routine contacts in his role as a senator -- not a campaign surrogate for Mr. Trump.

Mr. Trump even called the mounting outrage over Sessions’ Russian contacts a “witch hunt” himself on Thursday.

Sessions is not the first senior Trump associate to face accusations of improper communications with Russian officials. The president’s first choice as national security adviser, Michael Flynn, was forced to resign over similar allegations, and before him, campaign official Paul Manafort was also removed from his role. 

CBS News’ Jeff Pegues reported Thursday that other Trump associates also met with Kislyak either during or after the campaign, including Manafort, adviser Carter Page, and Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. 

The White House described the Kushner meeting as an “inconsequential hello.”