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Cruz: Firestorm over U.S. Attorney General Sessions is a "nothingburger"

In a television interview on Thursday, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz said the uproar over Attorney General Jeff Sessions' previous meetings with the Russian ambassador is nothing more than "political theater."

Speaking to reporters after President Donald Trump's address to Congress on Feb. 28, 2017, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz reiterated his desire to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, saying that Americans were suffering from high insurance premiums.

Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz sought on Thursday morning to tamp down a growing firestorm around U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, twice calling the issue a "nothingburger" in a television interview. 

While in the confirmation process, Sessions testified in January to the Senate Judiciary Committee — of which Cruz is a member — and said he had "been called a surrogate at a time or two in [the Donald Trump] campaign, and I did not have communications with the Russians."  

The Washington Post reported Wednesday night that Sessions twice spoke with the Russian ambassador to the United States over the course of the 2016 presidential campaign. 

"The reason I say it's political theater is the underlying meeting ... is a nothingburger," Cruz said in an interview with MSNBC. "It's what senators do every day, meeting with foreign ambassadors. It's part of the job."  

While Cruz labeled the issue a "nothingburger," he was unable to clarify if he knew what was discussed in Sessions' conversations with the ambassador. 

But Cruz added that Sessions could "have been more clear in what he said."

Some House Republicans seemed to still be processing the reports Thursday morning and remained in watch-and-wait mode.

Sessions' camp has characterized his meeting as part of his capacity as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, the legislative oversight arm of defense policy. Cruz is also a member of the committee and said he had not met with the Russian diplomat but repeatedly described meeting with foreign ambassadors as routine for a U.S. senator on the committee. 

"That's part of doing your job when you're on the Armed Services Committee," he added. 

Cruz went on to call Sessions "a man of integrity, a man of candor."

"But at the end of the day, I don't think there's any there, there," he said of the firestorm.

Like Cruz, U.S. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Clarendon, indicated that diplomatic meetings are normal for committee members, according to a Fox News tweet.

Two Texas House Republicans, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were waiting for more information, said there was nothing untoward about a member of Congress meeting with a foreign diplomat or running into one at a widely attended political function.

One member, who hadn’t yet seen the transcripts of Sessions’ Judiciary Committee testimony, said the issue at hand was whether the then-attorney general nominee's confirmation statements were truthful.

Another member echoed Cruz's comments, saying "there's no there, there" with the Sessions firestorm.

There are also increasing concerns within the Texas GOP delegation over the politicization of the Department of Justice, dating back to the George W. Bush administration. The fear is that the increased polarization of the federal law enforcement arm could deplete the country's faith in democracy.

House Democrats, on the other hand, were stunned with the recent developments. In private conversations, Democrats gamed out scenarios of Sessions recusing himself from any investigation, resigning or facing even more serious consequences.

Several Texas Democrats weighed in on Twitter.

"Concerned at reports of alleged Sessions perjury," U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, tweeted. "This, [and] all Russia-Trump ties, must be investigated independently."

U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, called for Sessions to resign, via Twitter late Wednesday night: "AG Sessions must step down NOW for providing false testimony regarding contacts with Russians."

U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio, the only Texas Democrat who serves on an intelligence committee, issued a series of critical tweets as the news broke Wednesday night.

"When you meet w Ambassadors ordinarily someone's staff takes notes," he tweeted. "Also, Ambassadors report back to their governments what you discussed."

U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, tweeted that meeting with the Russian ambassador was not his own normal approach.

"I can personally attest to this as well as a member of the House Armed Services Committee," Veasey wrote, regarding never meeting with the Russian ambassador while serving on the Armed Services Committee.

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