Did Trump Know About Jeff Sessions' Russia Meetings? The White House Is Standing By The Attorney General
Throughout his campaign and the first few months of his administration, Donald Trump has been dogged by controversy involving Russia. Early on in the election, Trump raised domestic and international eyebrows with his soft rhetoric on Vladimir Putin and later quips suggesting a moral equivalence between the actions of the U.S. and Russian governments. Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his first National Security Advisor Michael Flynn both had to quit because of questionable contact with Russia. And a new report from The Washington Post reveals that another Cabinet member, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, met with Sergey Kislyak, Russia's U.S. ambassador twice and didn't disclose this communication when under oath.
However, it is not yet known if Trump knew about Sessions' communication with the Russian ambassador. Bustle has reached out to the White House for clarification on how much Trump knew about the alleged contact between Sessions and Kislyak and will update this story accordingly.
A White House official did speak out in defense of Sessions, saying:
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.
According to a report in The Washington Post, Justice Department officials said Sessions met with Kislyak on two separate occasions during 2016. On the first occasion in July, it appears Sessions and Kislyak spoke briefly following a speech Sessions gave at the Heritage Foundation. The second was in September and at the Senate office of Sessions himself, according to the report.
The contact with Russia in and of itself is not the most significant concern; rather, it's that Sessions testified in his Senate confirmation hearing that he had not been in contact with Russian officials during Trump's campaign.
During his confirmation hearing, Minnesota Democratic Sen. Al Franken asked Sessions how he would respond if he discovered that Trump campaign members had been in communication with Russia during the election cycle. Sessions responded, "I'm not aware of any of those activities," and added, "I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians."
This has led to calls for Sessions to recuse himself from the investigation into Russian's influence on the election from both sides of the aisle. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi even went so far as to call for Sessions' resignation.
Sarah Isgur Flores, a spokeswoman for Sessions, told NBC News "there was absolutely nothing misleading" about his Senate testimony, as he was answering only whether or not he had contact with Russian officials as a member of Trump's campaign. In his capacity as a senator, and a senior member of the Senate Arms Committee, Sessions could chat with Kislyak, just as he met with dozens of other ambassadors. (The Washington Post asked all 26 members of the Senate Arms Committee if they, too, had met or spoken with Kislyak. All 20 who have responded thus far said they had not.)
How much Trump knew about Sessions' contact with Russia before the Washington Post report remains to be seen — but considering this administration's problem with leaks, it may not be long before the country finds out.