Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke twice with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. in his capacity as a senator, while serving as a lead surrogate for President Donald Trump’s campaign.
The Washington Post reports Sessions met with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in July 2016 and again in September of that year. He did not disclose these meetings during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee in January.
During the hearings, Democratic Sen. Al Franken asked Sessions how he would react if he learned that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign had communicated with the Russian government or elements of the Russian security establishment.
“I’m not aware of any of those activities,” Sessions said, before expressly denying any contacts with the Russian government. “I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians.”
He also denied communicating with Russian officials on a questionnaire he submitted to Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy, a member of the Judiciary Committee. “Several of the President-elect’s nominees or senior advisers have Russian ties,” the question read. “Have you been in contact with anyone connected to any part of the Russian government about the 2016 election, either before or after election day?”
Sessions responded with a terse “No.”
The Wall Street Journal, citing anonymous sources, reports Sessions’ contacts with Russian officials during this period were examined by the FBI. It is not clear whether that investigation is ongoing. Sessions was unaware he was the subject of a probe.
Sarah Isgur Flores, a Justice Department spokesperson, said Sessions met with Kislyak in his capacity as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and not on behalf of the Trump campaign. She says Sessions had 25 such meetings with envoys from foreign powers during that period, including the Sir Peter John Westmacott, the British ambassador, and Kenichirō Sasae, the Indian ambassador.
“He was asked during the hearing about communications between Russia and the Trump campaign — not about meetings he took as a senator and a member of the Armed Services Committee,” Flores said.
Sessions himself flatly denied the allegations in a statement issued late Wednesday evening.
“I have never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign,” he said. “I have no idea what this allegation is about. It is false.”
In his capacity as attorney general, Sessions oversees the FBI, which is currently investigating alleged contacts between Russian intelligence assets and senior members of the Trump campaign.
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