WASHINGTON — Jeff Sessions, then a U.S. senator and senior foreign policy adviser to Donald Trump, spoke twice last year with Russia’s ambassador, but didn’t disclose those encounters when asked about possible contacts between the Trump campaign and Moscow during his confirmation hearings as U.S. attorney general, The Washington Post reported Wednesday night.
Sessions’ spokeswoman, Sarah Isgur Flores, acknowledged the conversations took place between Sessions and Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak, but she said Sessions did not consider the talks relevant to a lawmaker’s questions at his confirmation hearings, the Post said.
“There was absolutely nothing misleading about his answer,” Isgur Flores said, according to the Post.
Later, Attorney General Sessions issued the following 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.”
That answer did not satisfy Democrats demanding his recusal from an ongoing federal investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election campaign. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, accused Sessions of “lying under oath” and demanded that he resign.
At his Jan. 10 Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing, Sessions was asked by Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., what he would do if he learned of any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of the 2016 campaign.
“I’m not aware of any of those activities,” Sessions replied, adding, “I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in the campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians.”
Justice Department officials said Sessions met with Kislyak on the sidelines of the Republican National Convention in July and then again on Sept. 8 in his capacity as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, not as a Trump campaign official.
The Washington Post said it contacted all 26 members of the Armed Services Committee to see whether any lawmakers besides Sessions met with Kislyak last year. It said that of the 19 lawmakers who responded, none had met with Kislyak.
The FBI and, separately, the Senate Intelligence Committee are investigating Russia’s alleged role in the 2016 presidential election. Some members of Congress have called on Attorney General Sessions to recuse himself from the FBI investigation, and others have called for the appointment of an independent special prosecutor to investigate.
Late Wednesday night, the White House issued a statement: “This is the latest attack against the Trump Administration by partisan Democrats. 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. It’s no surprise Senator Al Franken is pushing this story immediately following President Trump’s successful address to the nation.”
During a CNN Town Hall, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., deflected a question about The Washington Post report that Sessions twice spoke with the Russian ambassador to the United States during the 2016 presidential campaign, saying he needs to know more.
“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,” Graham said.