Controversial attorney general said he had no contact with Russian officials, despite two meetings with Sergey Kislyak, Moscows ambassador to the US
Donald Trumps attorney general Jeff Sessions twice spoke with the Russian ambassador to the United States during the presidential campaign.
The Washington Post, citing justice department officials, first reported that Sessions met with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak once in September 2016, when US intelligence officials were investigating Russian interference in the presidential election, and once in the summer of that year.
It was communications with Kislyak that led to the firing of Trumps first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, in February.
A spokeswoman for Sessions confirmed that the meetings took place, but provided a statement from the attorney general saying they were not related to the election campaign.
I never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign, Sessions statement said. I have no idea what this allegation is about. It is false.
Sessions, a former senator from Alabama who was among Trumps early and most vocal surrogates on the campaign trail, did not disclose the conversations when asked under oath during his Senate confirmation hearing in early 2017 about possible contacts between Trumps campaign and Moscow.
Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, called for Sessions resignation. After lying under oath to Congress about his own communications with the Russians, the attorney general must resign, she said.
Sessions is not fit to serve as the top law enforcement officer of our country and must resign. There must be an independent, bipartisan, outside commission to investigate the Trump political, personal and financial connections to the Russians.
The White House swiftly rejected the reports as an effort to undermine Trumps speech before Congress on Tuesday night, which was reviewed favourably by the US media despite signalling no substantive shift in policy.
This is the latest attack against the Trump administration by partisan Democrats, a senior administration official said, according to CNN.
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.
When Sessions was asked during his 10 January testimony to the Senate judiciary committee how he would respond if he learned of communications between the Trump campaign and Russian officials leading up to the election, he said he was not aware of any of those activities.
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.
While the committee was considering his nomination, the panels top Democrat, Senator Patrick Leahy, also raised the issue of communications with Russia in a written questionnaire.
Several of the president-elects nominees or senior advisers have Russian ties, Leahy wrote, before asking Sessions point-blank: 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?
No, Sessions responded.
Sarah Isgur Flores, a spokeswoman for Sessions, denied he had deceived the Senate. There was absolutely nothing misleading about his answer, Flores said in a statement, noting Sessions had over 25 conversations with foreign ambassadors last year.
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 Washington Post said it had asked all 26 members of the committee whether they had met Kislyak last year. None of the 20 who replied, including committee chair John McCain, had done so, it reported.
Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, called for Sessions to recuse himself from any probe into contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia.
If reports are accurate that Attorney General Sessions a prominent surrogate for Donald Trump met with Ambassador Kislyak during the campaign, and failed to disclose this fact during his confirmation, it is essential that he recuse himself from any role in the investigation of Trump campaign ties to the Russians, Schiff said.
This is not even a close call; it is a must.