Jeff Sessions: What we know now about his contact with the Russian ambassador

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Jeff Sessions: What we know now about his contact with the Russian ambassador

According to the Justice Department, Attorney General Jeff Sessions talked twice with Russia's ambassador to the United States during the 2016 presidential campaign season, something he failed to disclose during Senate confirmation hearings in January.

Democrats on Capitol Hill are calling for Sessions to explain testimony where he claimed during the hearing that he had not had contact with any Russian official.

A spokeswoman for Sessions said the then-senator had met with the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, but had not discussed anything concerning the election, and that one of the encounters was when the ambassador came up to him following a speech he made. Sessions’ spokeswoman said that while Sessions did speak with Kislyak, the conversations pertained to his position on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and had nothing to do with Trump’s campaign for president.

"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," Sarah Isgur Flores, the Justice Department spokeswoman, said.

Here’s what we know Thursday morning:

• On Wednesday, The Washington Post and The New York Times reported that the Justice Department said that Sessions had, in fact, met with Kislyak, on two occasions, once in July and once in September.

• In a statement issued Wednesday night, Sessions said he “never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign. I have no idea what this allegation is about. It is false.”

• According to The Associated Press, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the uproar over Sessions' conversations with Kislyak is, "the latest attack against the Trump administration by partisan Democrats." Sanders said 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” at the confirmation hearings.

• Sessions met twice with Kislyak in 2016 – once following a speech Sessions gave in July at the Heritage Foundation; the other time was in September, in his office in Washington.

• Following the Heritage Foundation speech, Kislyak and several other ambassadors from foreign countries approached Sessions to talk with him as he was leaving the stage.

• Sessions spoke to more than 25 foreign ambassadors in 2016, the Justice Department said.

• Democrats say Sessions misrepresented the meetings when answering a question from Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), during a Jan. 10, 2017, confirmation hearing. "If there was any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this (2016) campaign, what would you do?” Franken asked. Sessions answered that day, "I'm not aware of any of those activities. I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians and I’m unable to comment on it.”

• On that same day, Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, (D), asked Sessions, “Several of the president-elect's nominees or senior advisers have Russian ties. Have you been in contact with anyone connected to any part of the Russian government about the 2016 election, either before or after election day?" Sessions answered, “No.”

• House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, (D-Calif.), has called for Sessions to resign. “After lying under oath to Congress about his own communications with the Russians, the Attorney General must resign.”

• Some Republicans are calling for Sessions to recuse himself from any investigation of Russian intervention in the 2016 presidential campaign. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, (R-Utah), said Sessions should “clarify his testimony and recuse himself” in a tweet early Thursday.

• House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, (R-Calif.), says he, too, thinks Sessions should recuse himself from any investigation of Russian interference in the presidential election. "I don't have all the information in front of me, I don't want to pre-judge, but I just think for any investigation going forward, you want to make sure everybody trusts the investigation," McCarthy said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe."

• Sen. Lindsey Graham, (R-S.C.); in a CNN “Town hall meeting” Wednesday night, said Sessions should recuse himself if he spoke with the Russian diplomat.

• Sessions told NBC News Thursday that he would recuse himself, “whenever it is appropriate.”

• The Washington Post also reported that “White House lawyers have instructed aides to Trump to preserve materials that could be connected to Russian meddling in the American political process.” 

Sources: The Washington Post; The New York Times; The Associated Press; NBC News; Twitter

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