Sessions Under Fire for Speaking With Russian Ambassador in 2016

WASHINGTON (CN) – Attorney General Jeff Sessions twice met with a top Russian diplomat during last year’s presidential campaign, the Washington Post reported Wednesday, inspiring calls he either step down or at minimum not oversee an ongoing investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

National Public Radio reported Thursday morning that it has confirmed the meetings took place.

Sessions, an early supporter of President Donald Trump and a policy adviser to the Republican candidate, did not disclose any such discussions at his confirmation hearing in January when asked what he would do if “anyone affiliated” with the campaign had been in contact with officials of the Russian government.

Sessions replied that he had not had communication with the Russians.

But according to The Washington Post, Sessions met with Russian Ambassador  Sergey Kislyak twice in the months leading up to the election, most recently in his Senate office in September.

In the wake of  the article’s publication, Sessions released a statement to CNN, denying the allegations.

“I never met with an Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign,” Sessions said in a statement. “I have no idea what this allegation is about. It is false.”

Kislayak was the same diplomat with whom National Security Adviser Michael Flynn discussed sanctions before President Donald Trump took office, conversations that lead to Flynn’s ouster last month.

Sessions told both Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn, and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt, during confirmation hearings that he did not have any communications with Russians during the campaign.

Wednesday night’s news spurred calls in Congress for Sessions to recuse himself from a Justice Department investigation into Russian interference in the U.S. election.

In a statement Sen. Leahy, said his message to the attorney general is “no more excuses, recuse yourself and appoint a Special Counsel immediately, and come clean about any contacts you had with the Russians.”

“I am deeply concerned that Attorney General Sessions, under oath, misled the Senate Judiciary Committee in response to direct questions from myself and Senator Franken about his contacts with Russian officials,” Leahy said. “It is an egregious breach of public trust that Attorney General Sessions has not already recused himself. Now we must ask whether he has perjured himself.

“We all know Russia tried to meddle in our elections and its role has to be fully investigated. The Attorney General has shown he cannot be allowed to conduct the investigation,” Leahy said.

Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said: “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.”

But many Democrats went further, calling on the attorney general to step down.

“It is inconceivable that even after Michael Flynn was fired for concealing his conversations with the Russians that Attorney General Sessions would keep his own conversations secret for several more weeks,” Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said in a statement.

“When Senator Sessions testified under oath that ‘I did not have communications with the Russians,’ his statement was demonstrably false, yet he let it stand for weeks – and he continued to let it stand even as he watched the president tell the entire nation he didn’t know anything about anyone advising his campaign talking to the Russians. Attorney General Sessions should resign immediately and there is no longer any question that we need  a truly independent commission to investigate this issue,” Cummings said.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders earlier called the disclosure of the talks with the ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, “the latest attack against the Trump administration by partisan Democrats.” She added that 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.”

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