Attorney General Jeff Sessions, while he was still a senator, spoke twice last year with Russia's ambassador during the U.S. presidential campaign, the Washington Post reported Wednesday, citing Justice Department officials. However, Sessions, during his confirmation hearing in January, said no contacts had occurred between President Donald Trump's campaign and Russian officials.
The latest revelation follows the resignation of Michael Flynn as the national security adviser for his alleged discussions of U.S. sanctions on Russia with the Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak before Trump took office and for misleading Vice President Mike Pence about the conversations.
Justice Department officials told the Post that Sessions, in fact, spoke twice with Kislyak "at the height of what U.S. intelligence officials say was a Russian cyber campaign to upend the U.S. presidential race.” However, Sessions denied the claims Wednesday and said that he never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign, the Associated Press reported.
When Sessions spoke with Kislyak in July and September, he was a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and also one of Trump’s top foreign policy advisers, the Post reported.
At the time of Sessions' confirmation hearing on Jan. 10, he was asked by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minnesota) what he would do if he learned of any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of the 2016 campaign. Sessions replied, “I’m not aware of any of those activities." He added: “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, told the Post: "There was absolutely nothing misleading about his answer.”
However, Trump has often denied that his campaign had any contact with Russian officials, and at one point he openly suggested that American spy agencies had cooked up intelligence about the Russian government's interference in the election. In fact, Trump accused the Barack Obama administration of hyping the Russia storyline as a way to discredit the new administration, according to the New York Times.
Phone records and intercepted calls have showed that members of Trump's 2016 presidential campaign had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election, according to anonymous U.S. officials, the Times reported.
American law enforcement and intelligence agencies intercepted the communications at the time when they discovered evidence that Russia was trying to meddle with the presidential election by hacking into the Democratic National Committee's emails. The intelligence agencies went ahead looking for whether the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians on the hacking or other efforts to influence the election, the Times reported.