Attorney General Jeff Sessions met with Russia’s ambassador twice last year during Donald Trump’s campaign run but claimed during his Senate confirmation hearing that he ‘did not have communications with the Russians’ in his capacity as an adviser to then-candidate Trump.
Despite being asked by Minnesota Democratic Sen. Al Franken about contacts between Trump’s campaign and Russian officials, Sessions declined at the time to mention his private conversations with Sergey Kislyak during the Republican National Convention in July and subsequently in his office in September, The Washington Post reported.
The talks came at the height of what U.S. intelligence officials say was a Russian cyber campaign to influence the presidential race.
The White House doggedly defended Sessions on Thursday morning, saying in a statement to media outlets that ‘[t]his 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.’
‘lt’s no surprise Senator Al Franken is pushing this story immediately following President Trump’s successful [Tuesday] address to the nation.’
Scroll down for video
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Thursday morning that while he twice met with Russia’s ambassador during the presidential campaign season, he was speaking with him in his capacity as a senator, not as a campaign adviser to Donald Trump
Sessions (shown at his confirmation hearing) failed to disclose those two conversations in answers to Sen. Al Franken, a liberal Minnesota Democrat
Sessions released a statement late Wednesday in which he said he ‘never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the [Trump] campaign. I have no idea what this allegation is about. It is false.’
By morning he was asserting to NBC News that ‘I have not met with any Russians at any time to discuss any political campaign, and those remarks are unbelievable to me and false, and I don’t have anything else to say about that.’
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. lt’s no surprise Senator Al Franken is pushing this story immediately following President Trump’s successful address to the nation.
White House statement on allegations against Attorney General Jeff Sessions
Asked if he would step aside from Justice Department investigations into Russia’s election-year computer hacking and other political meddling, Sessions said: ‘Well, I’ve said that whenever it’s appropriate I will recuse myself, no doubt about that.’
House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz on Wednesday urged him to do just that. So did House Majority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy.
Democratic lawmakers including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi have called for Sessions to resign in the wake of the claims which came just weeks after former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn was fired, in part, for lying to Vice President Mike Pence about his own contacts with Kislyak.
The Russian ambassador is widely considered to be one of Russia’s top spies and spy-recruiters in Washington by US intelligence officials.
Richard Painter, who served as the White House ethics lawyer under President George W. Bush, tweeted late Wednesday night that ‘[m]isleading the Senate in sworn testimony about one own contacts with the Russians is a good way to go to jail.’
The latest claims about the attorney general will raise further questions about Washington’s relationship with Moscow.
Federal investigators have been looking into possible contacts between Trump advisers and Russia for months, along with clues pointing to Russia’s role in political hacking during the campaign.
The House and Senate intelligence committees have pledged to conduct a bipartisan probe into Trump and his administration’s ties to Russia, as well as claims that Moscow could have influenced the election.
Some Democrats have requested a special prosecutor although House Speaker Paul Ryan argued against it, saying the investigation should be carried out by congressional committees.
Sessions himself, who worked on Trump’s presidential campaign, said earlier this week he would ‘recuse myself from anything that I should recuse myself on.’
House Majority Leader McCarthy, a powerful California lawmaker, said Thursday morning that Sessions should follow through.
‘I think it would be easier from this standpoint, yes,’ McCarthy said on MSNBC’s ‘Morning Joe’ when asked if Sessions should recuse himself from any inquiry related to his contact with Russian officials during the campaign.
Chaffetz, the House Oversight head, agree with him on Twitter. ‘AG Sessions should clarify his testimony and recuse himself,’ he said.
But the latest revelation may persuade Republicans that a special prosecutor is needed to conduct an independent inquest that doesn’t answer to Sessions himself.
South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said Wednesday night during a CNN town hall broadcast that ‘if there is something there, and it goes up the chain of investigation, it is clear to me that Jeff Sessions, who is my dear friend, cannot make this decision about Trump.’
‘So they may be not – there may be nothing there, but if there’s something there if the FBI believes is criminal in nature, then, for sure, you need a special prosecutor. If that day ever comes, I’ll be the first one to say it needs to be somebody other than Jeff.’
Then-senator Sessions had a private conversation with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak (pictured above) last September in his office
The Post report that Sessions first spoke with Kislyak in July while acting as one of Trump’s top foreign policy advisers. They then met again in September in Session’s office in his role as a member of the armed services panel.
But when asked by Sen. Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat, at his January 10 Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing what he would do if he learned that anyone with ties to the Trump campaign had communicated with the Russian government in the past year, he denied any having any communications with Moscow.
‘I’m not aware of any of those activities,’ he responded. He added: ‘I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians.’
SESSIONS SAYS HE DIDN’T COMMUNICATE WITH RUSSIA WHEN ASKED ABOUT TRUMP’S TIES TO MOSCOW
During Jeff Session’s Attorney General confirmation hearing on January 10 he was question about the Trump campaign’s relations with Moscow.
Sen. Al Franken: ‘If there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign, communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign, what would you do?
Jeff Sessions: ‘Sen. Franken, 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.’
Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy also pressed Sessions in a written question about his communications with Russian officials.
‘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 a single written answer: ‘No.’
On Thursday morning Leahy issued a blistering statement calling on Sessions to steer clear of any investigation related to the fallout.
‘No more excuses, recuse yourself and appoint a Special Counsel immediately, and come clean about any contacts you had with the Russians,’ the far-left senator said.
‘I am deeply concerned that Attorney General Sessions, under oath, misled the Senate Judiciary Committee in response to direct questions from myself and Senator Franken about his contacts with Russian officials. It is an egregious breach of public trust that Attorney General Sessions has not already recused himself. Now we must ask whether he has perjured himself.’
The attorney general said Wednesday that he did not consider the meetings with the Russian ambassador relevant to the lawmakers’ questions during his confirmation hearing.
He also said he could not recall what he discussed with Kislyak.
‘There was absolutely nothing misleading about his answer,’ said Sarah Isgur Flores, Sessions’ spokeswoman. ‘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 added that the news of Sessions’ failure to disclose his communications with the Russian ambassador were ‘the latest attack against the Trump Administration by partisan Democrats.’
But House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi branded his confirmation hearing denial ‘apparent perjury’ as she called on him to resign.
‘Jeff Sessions lied under oath during his confirmation hearing before the Senate,’ she said. ‘Now, 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 and must resign.’
Senate Judiciary Committee member Sen. Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat, asked Sessions during the confirmation hearing what he would do if he learned that anyone with ties to the Trump campaign had communicated with the Russian government in the past year
Despite being asked about contacts between Trump’s campaign and Russian officials at his confirmation hearing, Sessions he failed to disclose his own meetings
In a series of tweets, Democrat Senator Elizabeth Warren wrote: ‘It’s a simple q: “Have you been in contact with anyone connected to any part of the Russian government about the 2016 election?”
‘Jeff Sessions answered “No.” Turns out he met with the Russian Ambassador. Two months before the election.
‘Now Jeff Sessions is AG – the final say on the law enforcement investigation into ties between the Trump campaign & Russia? What a farce.
‘This is not normal. This is not fake news. This is a very real & serious threat to the national security of the United States. We need a special prosecutor totally independent of the AG. We need a real, bipartisan, transparent Congressional investigation into Russia. And we need Attorney General Jeff Sessions – who should have never been confirmed in the first place – to resign. We need it now.’
Fellow Democrat Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, also called for Sessions to step down.
‘It is inconceivable that even after Michael Flynn was fired for concealing his conversations with the Russia, that Attorney General Sessions would keep his own conversations secret for several more weeks,’ he said.
‘His statement was demonstrably false, yet… 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. Attorney General Sessions should resign immediately, and there is no longer any question that we need a truly independent commission to investigate this issue,’ he said in a statement posted to Twitter.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham did not call for Sessions’ departure but insisted he should recuse himself from the decision of whether to pursue prosecution.
But he told CNN that the meetings may have been ‘legitimate.’
‘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.’
But he had harsher words for Trump over his relationship with Russian president Vladimir Putin.
‘When it comes to Russia, he has a blind spot. The bottom line is that Putin is disrupting democracy everywhere,’ Graham said.
Even before the allegations that Sessions kept quiet about his meetings with Russian officials last year, Republican Rep. Darrell Issa broke ranks to see that the former senator was not in a position to oversee such an investigation and urged the administration to appoint an independent prosecutor.
‘Any review conducted must have the full confidence of the American people, which is why I recommended an independent review,’ Issa said Monday in a statement.
Sen. John McCain said that Trump and his administration had to start taking the Russian threat more seriously.
Democratic lawmakers have called for Sessions to resign in the wake of the claims, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (left) and Rep. Elijah Cummings (right)
Resign: In a series of late night tweets, Senator Elizabeth Warren demanded an investigation into Russia’s role in the election, a separate special prosecutor and the resignation of Sessions
House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes said he has not received any evidence that anyone in Trump’s orbit was in contact with Russians during the presidential campaign
‘Have no doubt, what the Russians tried to do to our election could have destroyed democracy,’ he said. ‘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.’
Sessions’ spokesman said that he held 25 meetings with foreign ambassadors last year as senator.
Trump has denied knowing that any of his campaign advisers were in contact with Russians during the campaign. He has also said he has no financial ties or other connections to Russia.
The party divide on the probe is evidence that partisan discord is already seeping into House and Senate investigations of the Kremlin’s interference.
Both Republicans and Democrats say they can still conduct bipartisan probes, but there are renewed calls for the special prosecutor and revelations that the White House enlisted GOP chairmen of the intelligence committees to push back against news reports suggesting Trump advisers were in contact with Russians.
On the House side, there was a simmering dispute Monday between the intelligence committee’s top Republican and Democrat.
Rep Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said that so far he has not received any evidence from the intelligence community that anyone in Trump’s orbit was in contact with Russians during the presidential campaign.
Nunes, a member of Trump’s presidential transition team, has said the White House asked him to talk with one reporter about the matter, but didn’t give him any guidance on what to say. He said he told that reporter the same thing he’s said to many other reporters in the course of discussions.
The top Democrat on the committee, Rep. Adam Schiff, also of California, said the committee has not reached any conclusion on whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, Russian officials or any Russian contacts.
Sessions (left) and Trump (right) arrived for his first joint address to Congress yesterday. Both parties have pledged to launch a probe into the president and Washington’s ties to Russia
The latest claims about the attorney general will raise further questions about Trump’s relationship with Putin (file picture)
‘Nor could we,’ he said. ‘We have called no witnesses thus far. We have obtained no documents on any counterintelligence investigation and we have yet to receive any testimony from the FBI of potential links between the Trump campaign and Russia.’
White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Russia’s activity with regard to the 2016 election has been ‘investigated up and down.’
‘If there’s nothing to further investigate, what are you asking people to investigate,’ Spicer said.
Trump was asked Monday whether he would support a special prosecutor to investigate Russia’s influence on the 2016 election. Instead of answering that question, he said, ‘I haven’t called Russia in 10 years.’ Trump did not say why he called Russia a decade ago.
According to a White House description, the last time Trump spoke by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin was January 28 and the White House said Putin had initiated the call. Trump also traveled to Russia in 2013 for the Miss Universe beauty pageant in Moscow.
Trump has denied knowing that any of his campaign advisers were in contact with Russians during the campaign. He has also said he has no financial ties or other connections to Russia.
Trump FIRED his national security adviser over ‘eroding level of trust’ after Russia row
President Donald Trump demanded his national security adviser’s resignation on February 13 after concluding that an ‘eroding level of trust’ had made it impossible to leave him in the sensitive position.
Michael Flynn had been interviewed by the FBI in the first days of the Trump administration over claims he made about a pre-inauguration talk with a Kremlin representative that were repeated by the vice president.
Investigators were concerned that Flynn did not tell them the entire truth, the New York Times said, and informed the White House the very same day.
Yet, the vice president did not find out until two weeks later, on February 9, NBC News claimed.
Mike Pence’s spokesman, Mark Lotter, confirmed the network’s reporting shortly after to a group of journalists.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said that Trump had been reviewing and evaluating allegations against Flynn for weeks.
‘That is why the president decided to ask for his resignation, and he got it.’
Michael Flynn had been interviewed by the FBI over claims he made about a pre-inauguration talk with a Kremlin representative that were repeated by the vice presiden
Spicer cited Flynn’s misleading statements to Pence about the call he had with the Russian ambassador to the United States – ‘and a series of other questionable instances’ that he would not describe.
If the ex-general provided false statements to the FBI he could face an investigation with the possibility of felony charges. It is an offense not to tell the agency the truth and interviews do not have to be under oath.
Flynn suggested in an interview he was not under investigation by the federal agency, however.
Spicer had dismissed concern that Flynn’s calls with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak were problematic. He said the retired general was dismissed when Trump decided he couldn’t rely on him.
‘There was nothing wrong or inappropriate about those discussions. It purely came down to a matter of trust. That’s it,’ Spicer told reporters.