Sessions spoke with Russian ambassador twice during Trump’s campaign

Greg Nash

Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke twice with Russia’s ambassador to the United States last year, The Washington Post reported Wednesday, raising new questions about contact between officials with President Trump’s campaign and the Kremlin.

Sessions, a former Republican senator from Alabama, did not disclose the contact with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during his confirmation hearings, testifying under oath that he “did not have communications with the Russians.”

The contacts are coming under scrutiny because Sessions endorsed Trump early in his presidential bid, stumping and introducing him at campaign rallies and officially joined the Trump campaign in February 2016.

{mosads}A spokeswoman for Sessions confirmed the contact with Kislyak, saying the attorney general spoke on the phone with the ambassador from his office in September. That conversation took place during a time when intelligence officials assert that Russia was interfering with the U.S. presidential election through a hacking and influence campaign.

In July, Sessions attended a Heritage Foundation event at the Republican National Convention that was attended by some 50 ambassadors. A small group of ambassadors, including Kislyak, approached Sessions and talked to him informally, the Justice Department official told the Post.

“It was short and informal,” spokeswoman Sara Isgur Flores told The Wall Street Journal

Flores said Sessions spoke to Kislyak in his capacity as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, not as a Trump surrogate, and was not trying to mislead fellow senators when he said during his confirmation hearing that he had not been in contact with Moscow. 

Later Wednesday night, Sessions said in a statement: “I never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign. I have no idea what this allegation is about. It is false.”

During his confirmation hearing, Sessions was asked what he would do if he learned a member of Trump’s campaign had communicated with the Russian government over the course of the 2016 campaign. He responded: “I’m not aware of any of those activities. … I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign, and I did not have communications with the Russians.”

Officials said Sessions did not consider his conversations with Kislyak relevant to the lawmakers’ questions and did not remember the discussion with Kislyak in detail. And as a senior member of the committee, he met regularly foreign ambassadors, his spokeswoman said.

“There was absolutely nothing misleading about his answer,” Flores said. 

“This is the latest attack against the Trump administration by partisan Democrats,” the White House said in a statement. “Attorney General Sessions met with the ambassador in an official capacity as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is entirely consistent with his testimony.”

The Post asked the 26 other members of the Senate Armed Services Committee whether they had met with Kislyak last year. Of the 20 who responded, all said no.

Democrats quickly seized on the revelation to amplify their demand that Sessions recuse himself from any federal investigations into contacts between the Russian government and the Trump campaign. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) went so far as to call for the attorney general to resign.

“When Senator Sessions testified under oath that ‘I did not have communications with the Russians,’ his statement was demonstrably false, yet he let it stand for weeks — and he continued to let it stand even as he watched the President tell the entire nation he didn’t know anything about anyone advising his campaign talking to the Russians,” Cummings said in a written statement.

Democrats had already floated the idea of a special prosecutor to investigate the Trump-Russia ties. Those calls are certain to grow louder now that Sessions has admitted contact with the same Russian official who spoke with Michael Flynn, the former White House national security adviser who resigned after misleading Vice President Pence about discussions with Kislyak.

At least one Republican, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, on Wednesday evening echoed Democrats in saying a special prosecutor might be necessary.

“There may be nothing there,” Graham said in a CNN town hall event. “But if there is something there that the FBI believes is criminal in nature, then for sure you need a special prosecutor.

“If there were contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials, they may be legitimate; they may be OK. I want to know what happened between the Trump campaign, the Clinton campaign and the Russians.”

The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday evening that the FBI has examined the contacts that Sessions had with Russian officials while he was a Trump campaign adviser. It’s not clear whether the probe of Sessions’s contacts is ongoing or what its outcome was, according to the report.

Flores said Sessions was not aware his communications had been subject to FBI scrutiny.

As attorney general, Sessions oversees the FBI.

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), who asked Sessions about Russia connections during his confirmation hearings, said he was “troubled” by the report.

“If it’s true that Attorney General Sessions met with the Russian ambassador in the midst of the campaign, then I am very troubled that his response to my questioning during his confirmation hearing was, at best, misleading,” Franken told the Post in a statement on Wednesday.

The new report comes on the heels of the Flynn controversy and continued concerns over potential connections between Trump allies and Russia.

Flynn stepped down after it was reported that he had discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia with Kislyak in December, ahead of Trump’s inauguration, and misled top officials including, Pence, about the details.

Trump has repeatedly denied that his campaign staff was in contact with Russian officials, calling it “fake news.”

“I have nothing to do with Russia. I told you, I have no deals there, I have no anything,” Trump said at a press conference last month.

This story was updated on March 2 at 6:56 a.m.

Tags Al Franken Jeff Sessions Lindsey Graham

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