A new report says that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke twice to Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak in 2016, but denied having conversations with the Russian government during his Senate confirmation hearing in January 2017.
Unidentified Justice Department officials told The Washington Post that one of the meetings took place in September 2016 in Session's office when he was a U.S. Senator. Russia is believed to have been waging a hacking effort at that time to influence the presidential election.
Sessions was a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and a strong supporter of then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.
As attorney general, Sessions is in charge of the FBI and the Justice Department, which have been investigating links between Russia and Trump associates in connection to the election.
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During his Senate confirmation hearing, Sessions was under oath when he was asked by Democratic Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota what actions he would take, as attorney general, if he learned that someone with the Trump campaign had been in contact with the Russian government during the 2016 campaign.
"I'm not aware of any of those activities," Sessions replied. "I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians."
Sarah Isgur Flores, Sessions' spokeswoman, issued a statement to The Washington Post: "There was absolutely nothing misleading about his answer. 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."
Sessions was asked a similar question in writing by Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont: "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?"
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Sessions replied, "No."
Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, would not comment to The Washington Post.
The newspaper reported in January that Trump's national security adviser, Michael Flynn, had talked to Kislyak about U.S. sanctions before Trump took office, which contradicted Vice President Mike Pence and other Trump officials. That non-disclosure by Flynn forced him to resign.
Franken issued a statement to The Washington Post about its report: "If it's true that Attorney General Sessions met with the Russian ambassador in the midst of the campaign, then I am very troubled that his response to my questioning during his confirmation hearing was, at best, misleading.
"It is now clearer than ever that the attorney general cannot, in good faith, oversee an investigation at the Department of Justice and the FBI of the Trump-Russia connection, and he must recuse himself immediately."
CNN reporter Jim Acosta tweeted a copy of the White House's response to the report with this caption: "WH blames Sessions story on Democrats trying to damage POTUS after speech to Congress."