Attorney General Jeff Sessions, while an adviser to then-presidential candidate Donald Trump last year, spoke twice with the Russian ambassador, a source familiar with the matter tells NPR’s Carrie Johnson. At his Senate confirmation hearing, when Sessions was asked about contacts between Trump’s campaign and Russia, he said he had not “had communications with the Russians.”
The apparent clash between the accounts is prompting calls for Sessions to recuse himself from any inquiry into Russia’s involvement in the U.S. presidential campaign — and, from some quarters, for him to resign his current post.
Responding to the reports, Sessions seems to insist on a distinction between contacts he had as a senator and those he had as a part of Trump’s inner circle, saying in a brief statement issued by the Justice Department, “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.”
When he was up for confirmation by his colleagues in the Senate in January, Sessions was asked by Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., what he would do as attorney general about claims that “anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign” was in contact with the Russian government last year.
In his reply, Sessions said in part, “I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians.” He didn’t comment on what he would do as the top federal law enforcement officer if anyone from the campaign was accused.
In a statement released Wednesday night, Sessions spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores drew a distinction between what he did as a senator and what he did as a Trump adviser:
“There was absolutely nothing misleading about his answer. 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.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on Wednesday night, tweeted a call for Sessions to resign.
The apparent discrepancy between Sessions’ answer to Franken and the meetings comes as Democrats have been calling for Sessions to recuse himself from any investigations of possible ties between the campaign and efforts by Russia to interfere in the U.S. election.
The Post reported:
“One of the meetings was a private conversation between Sessions and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak that took place in September in the senator’s office, at the height of what U.S. intelligence officials say was a Russian cyber campaign to upend the U.S. presidential race.”
A person familiar with the matter told NPR’s Carrie Johnson that on another occasion, after he made a speech at the Heritage Foundation, Sessions spoke with a small group of ambassadors including the Russian ambassador, that the group invited him to some events they were sponsoring, and that he made no commitments.
The Journal said, “U.S. investigators have examined contacts [Sessions] had with Russian officials during the time he was advising Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, according to people familiar with the matter.” The paper said it was unclear what came out of the probe and whether it was still going on.
President Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, resigned in the wake of disclosures of his discussions with a Russian official, which took place in December, before Trump and his staff were legally entitled to conduct foreign policy. Flynn said he left his post because he had “briefed the Vice President Elect and others with incomplete information” in not revealing he had spoken about U.S. sanctions with the official.
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