U.S. attorney general faces storm over meetings with Russian ambassador

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By Doina Chiacu and Richard Cowan

<span class="articleLocation”>Several congressional Republicans called on
Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday to recuse himself
from investigations into alleged Russian meddling in the U.S.
presidential election after it emerged he met last year with
Russia’s ambassador but did not disclose the contacts in Senate

The revelation about Sessions, Republican President Donald
Trump’s top law enforcement official, rekindled questions about
ties between Trump associates and Russia that have dogged the
early days of his presidency.

They come at a time when Trump and Republicans who control
Congress are trying to move past early administration missteps
and focus on issues important to them including immigration, tax
cuts and repealing the Obamacare healthcare law.

Top Democrats in Congress demanded the resignation of
Sessions, who was a close adviser to Trump during his 2016
election campaign, and the appointment of an independent,
impartial special prosecutor with no attachment to the Trump
administration to examine the Russian role in the election.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi accused Sessions of
lying under oath during his Senate confirmation hearing. “The
law has been broken,” she told reporters.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said Sessions had
misled Congress over his contacts with the ambassador and should
resign for the good of the country, adding it would be like “Alice in Wonderland” if the administration were to approve
Sessions’ investigating himself.

Sessions, a former U.S. senator, received Russian Ambassador
Sergei Kislyak in his office in September, the Washington Post
reported. The other encounter was in July at a Heritage
Foundation event that was attended by about 50 ambassadors,
during the Republican National Convention, the Post said.

The Justice Department confirmed the two meetings, saying
they were in Sessions’ capacity as a member of the Senate Armed
Services Committee and there was nothing untoward about them.
Sessions also denied any wrongdoing.

During his confirmation hearing in January, Sessions
responded to a question from Democratic Senator Al Franken that
he did not “have communications with the Russians” during the
course of the presidential campaign.

Allegations over contacts between Trump aides and Russia
before his inauguration on Jan. 20, and the charge of Russian
election interference which the Kremlin has denied, have swirled
around the early days of Trump’s presidency. Trump has accused
officials in former Democratic President Barack Obama’s
administration of trying to discredit him.

U.S. intelligence agencies concluded last year that Russia
hacked and leaked Democratic emails during the election campaign
as part of an effort to tilt the vote in Trump’s favor.

As attorney general, Sessions heads the Justice Department
as attorney general. The FBI, part of the department, has been
leading investigations into the allegations of the Russian
meddling and any links to Trump’s associates.

Republican Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House of
Representatives Oversight Committee, said on Twitter that
Sessions “should clarify his testimony and recuse himself.”

Republican Senator Rob Portman echoed this, saying, “I think
it would be best for him and for the country to recuse himself
from the DOJ (Department of Justice) Russia probe.”

However, Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters
he saw no purpose in Sessions recusing himself unless the
attorney general himself was the subject of an investigation.

U.S. Senator Richard Burr, the Republican chairman of the
committee responsible for investigating allegations of Russian
election meddling, said in a statement he trusted Sessions to
decide if he should be involved in the probe.

Trump fired his national security adviser, Michael Flynn,
last month after it emerged that the retired lieutenant general
had discussed U.S. sanctions on Russia with Kislyak before
Trump’s swearing-in on Jan. 20, and then misled Vice President
Mike Pence about the conversations.

Trump called frequently during his campaign for improved
relations with Russia, drawing criticism from Democrats and some
Republicans given that ties have been deeply strained in recent
years over Moscow’s military interference in Ukraine, military
support for President Bashar al-Assad in Syria and President
Vladimir Putin’s intolerance of political dissent.


In a statement late on Wednesday, Sessions said he had never
discussed campaign details with any Russian officials. “I have
no idea what this allegation is about. It is false,” he said.

Sarah Isgur Flores, a Sessions spokeswoman, said Sessions
had more than 25 conversations with foreign ambassadors last

“There was absolutely nothing misleading about his answer,”
she said in a statement. “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

Sessions has resisted calls to recuse himself from the
investigations. He told NBC News on Thursday morning, “Whenever
it’s appropriate I will recuse myself, there’s no doubt about

“I have not met with any Russians at any time to discuss any
political campaign,” he added.

The White House dismissed the revelation of the meetings as
a partisan attack, saying Sessions’ contacts with the ambassador
had been as a member of the Armed Services Committee.

The Russian Embassy to the United States, shrugging off the
uproar, said on Thursday it was in regular contact with “U.S.

Before Trump took office, U.S. intelligence agencies
concluded that Russia had sought to influence the election
campaign, including by hacking into and leaking Democratic
emails. The Kremlin has denied the allegations.

During Sessions’ confirmation hearing, Franken asked him
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 campaign.

Sessions said he was not aware of any such activities,
adding, “I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that
campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians.”

On Thursday, Franken told CNN of the Sessions testimony: “At
the very least, this was extremely misleading. He made a bald
statement that during the (election) campaign he had not met
with the Russians. That’s not true.”

Asked by Democrat Patrick Leahy in a confirmation
questionnaire whether he had been in contact with “anyone
connected to any part of the Russian government about the 2016
election, either before or after Election Day,” Sessions
responded, “No.”

(Additional reporting by Steve Holland, Julia Edwards Ainsely,
Patricia Zengerle)

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