March 2, 2017
Just when you thought the ‘Russians-did-it’ meme was fading, WaPo reporters manage to find DoJ officials who say then-Senator Jeff Sessions spoke twice last year with Russia’s ambassador to the United States – encounters he did not disclose when asked about possible contacts with Moscow during his confirmation hearing to become attorney general.
At his Jan. 10 Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing, Sessions was asked by Sen. Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat, what he would do if he learned of any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of the 2016 campaign.
“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.” And now, as The Hill reports that according to The Washington Post report, President Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, spoke twice with Russia’s ambassador to the United States while Trump was on the campaign trail.
Justice Department officials said one of the meetings was a private conversation between Sessions and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in Sessions’s office. The private meeting reportedly took place during the same time intelligence officials have said Russia was interfering with the U.S. presidential election through a hacking campaign. Officials said Sessions did not consider the conversations relevant to the lawmakers’ questions and did not remember in detail what he discussed with Kislyak.
“There was absolutely nothing misleading about his answer,” said Sarah Isgur Flores, Sessions’s spokeswoman.
A Sessions spokeswoman said Sessions was acting as a member of the Armed Services Committee, not as a Trump surrogate, when he spoke with the ambassador, and was not trying to mislead senators when he said during his confirmation hearing that he had not had contacts with Moscow. She added that Sessions last year had more than 25 conversations with foreign ambassadors as a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, including the British, Korean, Japanese, Polish, Indian, Chinese, Canadian, Australian and German ambassadors, in addition to Kislyak.
When asked to comment on Sessions’s contacts with Kislyak, Franken said in a statement to The Washington Post on Wednesday:
“If it’s true that Attorney General Sessions met with the Russian ambassador in the midst of the campaign, then I am very troubled that his response to my questioning during his confirmation hearing was, at best, misleading.
Franken added: “It is now clearer than ever that the attorney general cannot, in good faith, oversee an investigation at the Department of Justice and the FBI of the Trump-Russia connection, and he must recuse himself immediately.”
And just like that, the “russians-did-it” meme is back on top of the news cycle into the weekend.
I’ll leave it to WaPo to conclude (with the narrative of choice)…
The previously undisclosed discussions could fuel new congressional calls for the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Russia’s alleged role in the 2016 presidential election. As attorney general, Sessions oversees the Justice Department and the FBI, which have been leading investigations into Russian meddling and any links to Trump’s associates. He has so far resisted calls to recuse himself.
I suspect Trump will tweet-splode again soon on the back of this – so much for the conciliatory “end the small-thinking” tone he called for in his congressional address.