U.S. Attorney-General Jeff Sessions was under fire on Thursday after it was revealed he met twice last year with Russia’s Ambassador to Washington, seemingly contradicting statements he made in Senate confirmation hearings.
The revelation cast a fresh cloud over President Donald Trump’s administration, which has repeatedly denied any suspected ties between members of his election team and Russia — which U.S. intelligence says interfered in the 2016 campaign against Hillary Clinton.
‘Attack by Democrats’
The White House quickly labelled the report an attack by partisan Democrats, confirming the meetings but arguing Mr. Sessions did nothing wrong.
In a statement, Mr. Sessions, the Trump administration’s top law enforcement official, said: “I never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign. I have no idea what this allegation is about. It is false.” But with U.S. intelligence agencies, the Justice Department, and four Congressional committees examining the Russia scandal, Democrats demanded that Mr. Sessions recuse himself from the investigations and for Congress to name an independent special investigator to oversee a broad probe. “Given A-G Sessions’ false statements about contacts with Russian officials, we need a special counsel to investigate Trump associates’ ties to Russia,” said Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Met envoy in July
TheWashington Post reported on Wednesday that Mr. Sessions — formerly a Senator who advised Mr. Trump’s campaign on foreign policy and other issues — met Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in July and September, just as accusations of Russian interference in the election were mounting.
Mr. Sessions, however, told his confirmation hearing at the Senate Judiciary Committee on January 10 that he did not know of contacts between Trump campaign members and Russia. “I did not have communications with the Russians,” he said under oath.
Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in the House of Representatives, called for Mr. Sessions to step down.
A White House official dubbed the latest report an “attack”. “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.”
Mr. Sessions later told NBC News that he would recuse himself from the probe “whenever it’s appropriate.”
Meanwhile, the Kremlin said it was unaware of any meetings between Mr. Sessions and Russia’s Ambassador to Washington ahead of the presidential election last year.