The Trump administration had repeatedly denied that any staffers of President Donald Trump's campaign had met with Russian officials during the 2016 presidential race. This has been contradicted by recent reports, with the disclosure that Attorney General Jeff Sessions and campaign advisers Carter Page and J.D. Gordon had met with Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergei Kislyak before election day.
On March 1, Department of Justice officials disclosed that Sessions had met with Kislyak twice during the campaign. The then-senator met with the Russian ambassador during the Republican National Convention in July and then in his office in September. Sessions had been a prominent campaign surrogate for the Trump campaign, The Washington Post reports.
During his confirmation hearings to head the DOJ, Sessions told both Democratic Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota orally and Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont in a written answer that both he and other Trump campaign officials had not spoken with any Russian officials during the campaign.
On March 2, Sessions announced he would recuse himself from any DOJ investigation into Russian contacts with the Trump campaign.
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That same day, two national security advisers of the Trump campaign, Gordon and Page, disclosed that they also spoke with Kislyak during the RNC convention in July. They described the conversation as informal, but it remains unknown what they discussed, USA Today reports.
Former national security adviser Michael Flynn resigned in February after misleading Vice President Mike Pence about the substance of phone communications he had had with Kislyak. On March 2, the White House disclosed that both Flynn and senior adviser Jared Kushner had privately met with the Russian ambassador at Trump Tower in December 2016.
These Trump officials had met with Kislyak during the same time period that the U.S. intelligence community has assessed that the Russian government was committing cyber espionage to interfere in the presidential election. There is no evidence campaign officials had discussed the espionage with Kislyak, nor is it a crime to speak with a Russian ambassador.
The inconsistency is that the Trump administration has repeatedly denied that any campaign officials had communication with Russian officials during this time.
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On Jan. 15, CBS News' John Dickerson asked Pence "did any advisor or anybody in the Trump campaign have any contact with the Russians who were trying to meddle in the election?"
"Of course not," Pence responded. "And I think to suggest that is to give credence to some of these bizarre rumors that have swirled around the candidacy."
On Feb. 20, amid reports that several campaign officials had had repeated contacts with Russian officials, White House deputy press secretary Sarah Sanders denied any communication took place.
"This is a non-story because to the best of our knowledge, no contacts took place, so it's hard to make a comment on something that never happened," Sanders said.
Trump himself has denied that his campaign officials had any contact with Russia. On Jan. 11, the then-president-elect was asked by NBC News if members of his campaign had contact with Russian officials during the presidential race. Trump responded "No."