According to U.S. intelligence interceptions detailed by a Washington Post report, when then-U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions spoke to Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak last year during the campaign, the two discussed various campaign-related matters and policy issues important to Moscow.
That’s based on intercepted reports Kislyak delivered to his superiors back in Russia after each of the two conversations he had with Sessions, who now serves as President Trump’s attorney general. Though it’s of course possible that Kislyak may have mischaracterized or exaggerated what was discussed in the meetings, the U.S. officials who spoke to the Post said that the former ambassador had a reputation for accurately relaying details about his meetings with government officials. The new report also jibes with a report from someone who was in attendance at the Republican National Convention, where one of the meetings took place, who said Sessions and Kislyak discussed the campaign.
When the Post reached out to Sarah Isgur Flores, a Justice Department spokeswoman, she responded that she could not comment on an anonymous, uncorroborated intelligence intercept. But according to the Post, “she reiterated that Sessions did not discuss interference in the election.”
The revelations, if true, undermine the various narratives Sessions has spun about his interactions with the Russians, of which at least two are known.
It would confirm that Sessions did, in fact, lie to the Senate during his confirmation hearing when he claimed that he didn’t have communications with the Russians. He argued during his testimony in June that he believed Sen. Al Franken’s (D-MN) question referred specifically to meetings related to the campaign. Now, even if that was the cause of his supposed misunderstanding, it still doesn’t substantiate his answer.
The report also contradicts his excuse for not noting the meetings with Kislyak on his security clearance forms. When that news came to light in May, Flores explained that an FBI employee had told Sessions he didn’t need to list meetings with foreign ambassadors that happened in his capacity as a senator. Another spokesperson, Ian Prior, similarly claimed that Sessions “was instructed not to list meetings with foreign dignitaries and their staff connected with his Senate activities.” But if he was discussing the campaign, the meetings were most certainly not in his capacity as a Senator.
Just last week, Sessions responded to a court order directing him to release the part of his security clearance detailing his foreign contacts by releasing a mostly blank piece of paper. The only part of the form that wasn’t redacted was the box that was checked “No” in response to a question about having any contact with a foreign government.
Flores’ insistence that Sessions did not discuss interference in the election at the meetings mirrors his own claim during congressional testimony in June that it’s an “appalling and detestable lie” to suggest he participated in any collusion with the Russian government. But during that hearing, he also insisted 26 different times that he didn’t remember details of what was discussed at the meetings.
The news about Sessions’ meeting comes just two days after President Trump lashed out at the attorney general for recusing himself from the Russia investigation. Sessions announced his recusal after revelations of his meetings first came to light, although he did still participate in the firing of FBI Director James Comey, who was leading the Russia investigation. Trump fumed that if he had known Sessions would recuse himself, he would’ve appointed a different attorney general — implying that Sessions’s missteps were to blame for the chain of events that resulted in the appointment of a special prosecutor.
It also comes about ten days after another set of astounding revelations about a meeting Donald Trump, Jr. had during the campaign with a Russian lawyer tied to the nation’s spy agency and other prominent Russian officials. The meeting was set up with the promise of opposition research about Hillary Clinton and spoke blatantly about the Russian government’s support for Trump’s candidacy. Then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort and White House adviser Jared Kushner also participated in that meeting.
At Thursday’s White House press briefing, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that President Trump remains “frustrated by the continued witch hunt of the Russia investigation.” That same day, reports revealed Trump has been investigating the breadth of his presidential pardon powers, including whether he can pardon himself.