The Trump administration’s Russia problem has flared up big-time amid revelations that Attorney General Jeff Sessions met twice with the Russian ambassador last year — and didn’t tell senators about it during his confirmation.
After riding high on Trump’s well-received first address to Congress on Tuesday, the White House is mired once again in the scandal over whether Trump campaign officials had frequent contact with Russian officials last year, as Obama officials were looking into allegations that the Russian government was engaging in cyberattacks to try to tilt the election Trump’s way.
Calls for Sessions to recuse himself from the Justice Department’s investigation into ties between Trump and Russia have snowballed, following a Washington Post report Tuesday night exposing multiple meetings between Sessions and Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the U.S., during the campaign. Those meetings, one of which occurred during the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, came amid an alleged effort by Russia to aid Trump’s campaign, for which Sessions was a prominent surrogate.
Asked about connections between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign during his confirmation hearings, Sessions did not disclose his meetings with the ambassador and, in fact, told Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) that “I did not have communications with the Russians.” In a set of written answers for Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Sessions said he had not been in contact with Russian officials regarding the 2016 campaign.
“This is the latest attack against the Trump administration by partisan Democrats. [Attorney] General 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,” a White House official said. “It’s no surprise Sen. Al Franken is pushing this story immediately following President Trump’s successful address to the nation.”
In an interview with Fox News, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Sessions “did his job” and had been “100 percent straight” with the Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearings. He said Democrats were guilty of “continuing to push a false narrative for political purposes.”
A spokeswoman for Sessions told the Post that “there was absolutely nothing misleading about his answer” to Franken or Leahy regarding ties to Russia. That spokeswoman said Sessions’ meetings with the ambassador were related to his work as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, not his role on the Trump campaign.
A spokeswoman for Russia’s foreign ministry, speaking to CNN Thursday morning, said Kislyak is a “world-class diplomat” who has “communicated with his American colleagues through decades on different fields.” She said CNN had accused Kislyak of being a Russian spy and warned the network to “stop spreading lie[s] and false news” as she walked away from her interviewer.