On Wednesday night, the Washington Post reported that Jeff Sessions met with the Russian ambassador during the presidential campaign. During his confirmation hearings Sessions said, under oath, “I did not have communications with the Russians.”
Video of Sessions under oath denying he had any contacts with the Russians during the campaign pic.twitter.com/cnbAP187dZ
— Judd Legum (@JuddLegum) March 2, 2017
Sessions then admitted to meeting with the Russian ambassador while he was serving as a top adviser and surrogate for the Trump campaign. But he has offered shifting, contradictory, and carefully parsed explanations for concealing these meetings at his confirmation hearing.
Sessions initially indicated he didn’t remember what the meeting was about.
The Washington Post, speaking to officials defending Sessions, was initially told that Sessions could not remember the contents of the meeting:
Officials said Sessions did not consider the conversations relevant to the lawmakers’ questions and did not remember in detail what he discussed with Kislyak…
In the case of the September meeting, one department official who came to the defense of the attorney general said, “There’s just not strong recollection of what was said.”
Later, Sessions remembered what the conversations were about, saying they were not about the campaign.
Sessions’ statement is fairly legalistic. He says he didn’t have meetings “to discuss issues of the campaign.” That would allow for the possibility that he did discuss the campaign with Russian officials.
A Trump administration official said that Sessions did talk about the campaign with the Russian ambassador.
He described the conversation as “superficial.”
Trump admin official on Sessions/Russian envoy: "superficial comments about election-related news, not substance of their discussion"
— John Harwood (@JohnJHarwood) March 2, 2017
Sessions says he was only speaking to the Ambassador in his official capacity as a Senator, but one of the meetings occurred at the RNC.
Sessions’ core defense is that he was only speaking about conversations he had as a Trump surrogate and that his meetings were in his official capacity as Senator. This was not a distinction he made in his answer to Franken, which was definitive and unqualified.
“There was absolutely nothing misleading about his answer,” said Sarah Isgur Flores, Sessions’s spokeswoman…
“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,” Flores said.
But one of his discussions with the Russian ambassador occurred at the Republican National Convention. Clearly, Sessions attended the RNC in his capacity as a Trump surrogate and advisor. It doesn’t seem possible to classify at a discussion Sessions had at the RNC as in his official and not political capacity.
Sessions met with Kislyak twice, in July on the sidelines of the Republican convention, and in September in his office when Sessions was a member of the Senate Armed Services committee. Sessions was an early Trump backer and regular surrogate for him as a candidate.
Sessions said meeting with the Russian ambassador was a normal part of his job, even though no other members of the Senate Armed Service Committee had similar meetings.
Sessions’ spokesperson attempted to characterize the meetings as a standard part of his job. “Sessions last year had more than 25 conversations with foreign ambassadors as a senior member of the Armed Services Committee,” she said. But the Washington Post spoke to 20 other members of the Senate Armed Service Committee and found that none of them had met with the Russian ambassador.
There is a good reason no one meets with Sergey Kislyak. The Russian Ambassador is “considered by US intelligence to be one of Russia’s top spies and spy-recruiters in Washington, according to current and former senior US government officials.”
Sessions has not agreed even to recuse himself from overseeing the investigation which, according to the Wall Street Journal, includes an investigation into his own contacts with the Russian.