US Attorney General Jeff Sessions has denied claims that he secretly met with Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak twice last year to discuss the Trump campaign ahead of the presidential election in November.
Sessions, then a US Senator for Alabama and an early supporter of Donald Trump’s presidential bid, allegedly met with Kislyak in July and again in September, The Washington Post claimed on Wednesday.
If true, that would directly contradict assurances by Sessions during his confirmation hearing in January that no one – including himself – close to the Trump campaign had contact with Russian government officials during the election season. When asked specifically whether he had met with Russian state officials, Sessions again answered that he had not.
According to the Post report, Sessions met with a “small group” of diplomats, including Kislyak during the Republican National Convention in July. Justice Department officials claim Sessions met again with Kislyak in his senate office in September.
While a Sessions spokesperson acknowledged that the meetings took place, both the Attorney General and his office denied any discussions of the 2016 election took place.
“I never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign,” Sessions said. “I have no idea what this allegation is about. It is false.”
A spokeswoman for Sessions, Sarah Isgur Flores, noted that the then-senator had met with a number of foreign diplomats in his capacity as a member of the Armed Services Committee, and that none of the meetings were of a political nature.
“There was absolutely nothing misleading about his answer,” Flores. “Last year, the senator had over 25 conversations with foreign ambassadors as a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, including the British, Korean, Japanese, Polish, Indian, Chinese, Canadian, Australian, German and Russian ambassadors. 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.”
The Trump administration said Thursday it is backing Sessions, who has become a target of congressional Democrats calling for his ouster.
“Sessions is not fit to serve as the top law enforcement officer of our country and must resign,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. “There must be an independent, bipartisan, outside commission to investigate the Trump political, personal and financial connections to the Russians.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer echoed Pelosi’s sentiments in a statement Thursday.
“There cannot be even the scintilla of doubt about the impartiality and fairness of the attorney general,” Schumer said. “It’s clear Attorney General Sessions does not meet that test … for the good of the country, Attorney General Sessions should resign.”
In January, it was revealed that National Security Advisor Michael Flynn had spoken with Russian government officials in December 2016 – prior to Trump’s inauguration and Flynn’s service as NSA, but after the November election and Flynn’s selection for the position.
On February 13th, Flynn submitted his resignation, following internal criticism within the Trump administration over Flynn’s denials regarding his contacts with Russian officials.