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Sessions takes responsibility for keeping Rosenstein in charge of Russia investigation

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions is taking responsibility for authorizing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to remain in charge of the Russia investigation, and detailed the process by which former FBI Director James Comey was fired. (FILE) Attorney General Jeff Sessions is taking responsibility for authorizing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to remain in charge of the Russia investigation, and detailed the process by which former FBI Director James Comey was fired. (FILE)
By Maegan Vazquez CNN

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Attorney General Jeff Sessions is taking responsibility for authorizing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to remain in charge of the Russia investigation, and detailed the process by which former FBI Director James Comey was fired.

The comments come amid criticism from Republicans for the Justice Department's decision to keep Rosenstein in charge of the special counsel investigation into Russian election meddling in 2016, and any possible collusion with President Donald Trump's campaign.

Sessions said in an interview released Thursday that he was the one who made the decision to recommend to Trump that he fire Comey, not Rosenstein -- and that therefore Rosenstein isn't disqualified from his role in the Russia investigation.

"That decision ... really fell to me, ultimately, on the Comey matter," Sessions, who recused himself from the Russia investigation, told CNN affiliate Hill.TV's morning show "Rising." "And that's not a disqualifying thing."

South Carolina GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham told CNN last week that he believes Rosenstein is "conflicted" from overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller's work given his role in Comey's firing -- an issue of interest to the Mueller team as it determines whether the President inappropriately sought to interfere with the Russia investigation.

"If you're looking at obstruction of justice misconduct post-presidency, the Comey firing as being a form of obstruction of justice, then Rosenstein is a key witness in that and you can't be a witness and oversee the investigation," Graham told CNN.

Graham also sent Rosenstein a short letter questioning whether he needs to recuse himself from the investigation.

Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd on Wednesday reaffirmed the department's general policy of not publicly commenting about any federal investigation, but also addressed the recusal issue.

"The Deputy Attorney General would recuse from all or part of any matter if recusal were deemed appropriate by Department officials who are informed about the matter," Boyd wrote. "Otherwise, he has a responsibility to fulfill his oath to well and faithfully execute the duties of his office."

Sessions told Hill.TV that the Justice Department recommendations leading to Comey's termination were the right call.

"I think it was the right thing to do, and the facts were pretty clear on it. He made a big mistake, and he testified only a few weeks before that termination that he would do it again if he had the opportunity. So we felt there was a serious breach of discipline within the department if we allowed him to continue," Sessions added.

Sessions, who has been a regular target of Trump's Twitter ire, acknowledged that some days at Trump's Justice Department are easier than others.

"The key thing for me is that President Trump's view of what the department should be doing every day -- whether it's crime, violent crime, opioids, whether it's immigration and other fraud -- those kinds of things, we are in real strong sync," Sessions said. "Religious freedom, he's honored that, he's promised to protect religious freedom and he's directed me to do so, all of which I thoroughly appreciate. We embrace it every day. We're working to carry out that agenda.

"Actually, it's quite thrilling some days -- and difficult on other days," Sessions said.

CNN's Manu Raju and Laura Jarrett contributed to this report.

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