Sessions Under Fire for Talks with Russian Ambassador
WASHINGTON (AP) — Attorney General Jeff Sessions talked twice with Russia's ambassador to the United States during the presidential campaign season, communications that spurred calls in Congress for him to recuse himself from a Justice Department investigation into Russian interference in the U.S. election.
Sessions, an early supporter of President Donald Trump and a policy adviser to the Republican candidate, did not disclose those discussions at his confirmation hearing in January when asked what he would do if "anyone affiliated" with the campaign had been in contact with officials of the Russian government.
Sessions replied that he had not had communication with the Russians.
Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said Wednesday night that "there was absolutely nothing misleading about his answer."
That statement did not satisfy Democrats, who even before Wednesday had sought his recusal from the ongoing federal investigation and had raised questions about whether he could properly oversee the probe.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi accused Sessions of "lying under oath" and demanded that he resign. Other Democrats called on him to step aside from the investigation.
In a statement late Wednesday, Sessions said, "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."
Sessions had more than 25 conversations with foreign ambassadors last year in his role as a U.S. senator and senior member of the Armed Services Committee, and had two separate interactions with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, the department confirmed.
One was a visit in September in his capacity as a senator, similar to meetings with envoys from Britain, China, Germany and other nations, the department said.
The other occurred in a group setting following a Heritage Foundation speech that Sessions gave during the summer, when several ambassadors — including the Russian ambassador — approached Sessions after the talk as he was leaving the stage.
Revelations of the contacts, first reported by The Washington Post, came amid a disclosure by three administration officials that White House lawyers have instructed aides to Trump to preserve materials that could be connected to Russian meddling in the American political process.
The officials who confirmed that staffers were instructed to comply with preservation-of-materials directions did so on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly disclose the memo from White House counsel Don McGahn.