Private meetings between Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Russian ambassador took place in September at the height of the Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential campaign, directly contradicting what he said under oath during confirmation hearings earlier this year.
- Jeff Sessions met with the top Russian diplomat twice in 2016.
- He denies that any contact was in relation to the Trump campaign.
- Democratic lawmakers are calling for his resignation, citing “apparent perjury”.
- Michael Flynn resigned for similar contact with the Russian Ambassador.
Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, is considered by the US intelligence community to be one of Russia’s top spies and spy-recruiters in Washington, according to current and former senior US government officials.
The two meetings took place in July on the sidelines of the Republican convention, and in September in his office. Sessions was an early Trump backer and frequent surrogate for him as a candidate.
Sessions has responded to the allegations, “I never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign,” he said in a statement. “I have no idea what this allegation is about. It is false.”
Misleading the Senate in sworn testimony about one own contacts with the Russians is a good way to go to jail https://t.co/qH0s6sTMJ9
— Richard W. Painter (@RWPUSA) March 2, 2017
In January, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) asked Sessions for answers to written questions. “Several of the President-elect’s nominees or senior advisers have Russian ties. 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?” Leahy wrote. Sessions responded with one word: “No.”
Sessions’ spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said there was nothing “misleading about his answer” to Congress because the Alabama Republican “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.”
Statement from Attorney General Sessions: pic.twitter.com/kZic12DW0R
— Sarah Isgur Flores (@whignewtons) March 2, 2017
A White House official said: “This is the latest attack against the Trump Administration by partisan Democrats. (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.”
More questions arise
This newly revealed contact, confirmed by Sessions’ spokeswoman, brings up yet more questions over the connection between Donald Trump, his campaign, and the Russian government.
It raises questions over how truthful Sessions was when questioned by Senator Al Franken during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee in January. When Franken asked Sessions about Trump campaign officials’ connections with the Russian government, Sessions said: “I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians.”
Calls for an independent investigation
In reaction to the report, Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat and the ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, also called for Sessions’ resignation.
“There is no longer any question that we need a truly independent commission” to investigate potential ties between Russia and the Trump campaign, Cummings said. “It is inconceivable that even after Michael Flynn was fired for concealing his conversations with the Russians that Attorney General Sessions would keep his own conversations for several weeks.”
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement, “After lying under oath to Congress about his own communications with the Russians, the Attorney General must resign, Sessions is not fit to serve as the top law enforcement officer of our country.”
Minnesota Democrat Sen. Al Franken, who asked Sessions about Russia at the confirmation hearing, said, “I am very troubled that his response to my questioning during his confirmation hearing was, at best, misleading.”
“It’s clearer than ever now that the attorney general cannot, in good faith, oversee an investigation at the Department of Justice and the FBI of the Trump-Russia connection, and he must recuse himself immediately,” Franken said.
Watch Al Franken question Jeff Sessions here:
The response from The Hill
Democrats are saying at the very least Sessions must recuse himself of any investigation into the Trump campaign’s connections with Russian officials.
This is another clear sign Sessions must recuse himself from an investigation into Russia’s influence in the White House. https://t.co/awI9zM0VgB
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) March 2, 2017
So far it remains unclear as to how the Republican’s will react to these latest revelations. With the exception of the maverick senators, McCain and Graham, the vast majority of Republicans in Congress have not united in called for a special prosecutor or the like. They are instead saying that the House and Senate Intelligence Committees should be responsible for any inquiries into the matter.
“When it comes to Russia, he has a blind spot. The bottom line is that Putin is disrupting democracy everywhere,” Graham said. “Have no doubt, what the Russians tried to do to our election could have destroyed democracy. And that’s why we’ve got to pay a hell of a lot more attention to the Russians and the things they’re doing in Europe — and right now, they’re trying to determine the outcome of the French election, and they’re using cyber.”