Then-Sen. Jeff Sessions spoke with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. twice last year in apparent contradiction to what the Republican Alabama senator said during his attorney general confirmation hearings, the Washington Post reported Wednesday. Sessions acted as an early surrogate for Donald Trump and met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak privately in his Senate office in September, according to the Post, while Russia was simultaneously engaged in an expansive effort to influence the U.S. election. The other meeting occurred in July at an event on the sidelines of the Republican National Convention held by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. Sessions spoke informally with Ambassador Kislyak and several other ambassadors after giving a speech at the event, according to the Justice Department.
During his Jan. 10 confirmation hearing, Sessions was asked by Sen. Al Franken about Trump administration ties to Russia. “I’m not aware of any of those activities,” Sessions responded. “I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians.”
The fact that Sessions, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, failed to disclose the meetings will raise questions not only about what was said during the meetings, but why Sessions failed to disclose the interactions while under oath. “Officials said Sessions did not consider the conversations relevant to the lawmakers’ questions and did not remember in detail what he discussed with Kislyak,” according to the Post. “The Washington Post contacted all 26 members of the 2016 Senate Armed Services Committee to see if any lawmakers besides Sessions met with Kislyak in 2016. Of the 19 lawmakers who responded, every senator, including chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.), said they did not meet with the Russian ambassador last year. The other lawmakers on the panel did not respond as of Wednesday evening.”
The revelation that the current attorney general met with the Russian ambassador twice during the presidential campaign is certain to increase pressure on the Trump administration to appoint independent counsel to investigate Trump’s links to Russia during the campaign. Sessions, as the attorney general and head of the Justice Department, also oversees the FBI, which is currently engaged in a far-reaching probe into Russia’s election meddling. The Wall Street Journal reports that, unbeknownst to the now–attorney general, investigators have examined Sessions contacts with Russian officials during the campaign, but the investigation hasn’t been completed.