Senior Democrats have called for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign after it emerged he failed to disclose two meetings with Russia’s ambassador to Washington during the US election campaign.
Sessions did not mention the meetings with Sergey Kislyak during his confirmation hearings, when was asked if he knew of any contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. Sessions campaigned on behalf of Donald Trump throughout 2016.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren said Sessions should resign.
Pelosi said Sessions’ answers in his confirmation hearing amounted to “apparent perjury” and said he was “not fit to serve as the top law enforcement officer of our country.”
Warren said he should never have been confirmed in the first place, pointing out that he oversees the FBI, which is investigating allegations that Russia interfered in the US election campaign.
“Now Jeff Sessions is AG — the final say on the law enforcement investigation into ties between the Trump campaign & Russia? What a farce. This is not normal. This is not fake news. This is a very real & serious threat to the national security of the United States,” she tweeted.
“We need a special prosecutor totally independent of the AG. We need a real, bipartisan, transparent Congressional investigation into Russia,” she added.
Ohio Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan told CNN’s New Day that Sessions had misled Congress. “It’s pretty clear he lied. He said he was a surrogate and he then went on to say he never had any meetings in any capacity with Russian officials, let alone the top Russian spy in the United States. What the hell is going on here? Why is everybody lying?”
Sessions: ‘This allegation is false’
Sessions strongly denied ever discussing campaign-related issues with anyone from Russia.
“I never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign,” he said in a statement. “I have no idea what this allegation is about. It is false.”
Sessions’ spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said there was nothing “misleading about his answer” to Congress because 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.”
“Last year, the Senator had over 25 conversations with foreign ambassadors as a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, including the British, Korean, Japanese, Polish, Indian, Chinese, Canadian, Australian, German and Russian ambassadors,” Isgur Flores said in the statement.
A Justice Department official confirmed the meetings, but said Sessions met with the ambassadors “in his capacity as a senator on the Armed Serviced Committee.”
A White House official said: “This is the latest attack against the Trump Administration by partisan Democrats. (Attorney) General 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.”
Meetings with Russian ambassador
According to the Justice Department, Sessions met with Kislyak in July on the sidelines of the Republican convention, and in September in his office when Sessions was a member of the Senate Armed Services committee. Sessions, then the junior senator from Alabama, was an early Trump backer and regular surrogate for him as a candidate.
Kislyak is considered by US intelligence to be one of Russia’s top spies and spy-recruiters in Washington, according to current and former senior US government officials.
Kislyak’s interactions with Trump’s former national security adviser Mike Flynn led to Flynn being fired last month.
The Washington Post first reported on Sessions’ meetings with the ambassador.
The House Intelligence Committee signed off this week on a plan to investigate Russia’s alleged interference in the US elections, which includes examining contacts between Trump’s campaign and Russia, and looking into who leaked the details. Democrats have called for an independent investigation.
Minnesota Sen. Al Franken, who asked Sessions about Russia at his confirmation hearing, said if the reports of Sessions’ contacts with Kislyak were true, then Sessions’ response was “at best misleading.”
“It’s clearer than ever now 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,” Franken said.
The ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff, also said that Sessions should recuse himself if he didn’t reveal his interactions with the Russian Ambassador last year during his confirmation hearing.
“If it’s true that Sessions failed to disclose his meeting with Kislyak, he must recuse himself. This is not even a close call; it is a must,” he posted on Twitter.