After having to recuse himself from the inquiry into Russia's possible interference with the 2016 presidential election, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Russian nationals he's had contact with have been under public scrutiny. One such Russian national is Sergey Kislyak, who Sessions spoke with on at least two confirmed occasions during the election — once in July and another time in September.
Kislyak has been the Russian ambassador to the United States since 2008. In an interview on CBS This Morning, POLITICO's Michael Crowley characterized Kislyak as the "most dangerous diplomat" in Washington. "He is Vladimir Putin's man in Washington at a time when Putin is one of the great villains," said Crowley. "His job primarily is to gather information and report back to Moscow."
Sessions, who stated in his attorney general confirmation hearings that he had no contact with Russian officials during the presidential campaign, claimed that his meetings with Kislyak had to do with his involvement in the Armed Services Committee, not with his relationship to Donald Trump. Kislyak has an education in physics and is considered to be an arms control expert. However, the Washington Post later reached out to the other 25 members of the committee, and all stated they had no contact with the Russian ambassador during 2016, making Sessions' communication with Kislyak seem a little too coincidental.
Apart from Sessions, other Trump surrogates have also held meetings with Kislyak. Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, who now serves as a senior adviser to the president, and Michael Flynn, currently the president's national security advisor, both held a meeting with Kislyak in December. According to a New York Times report, Flynn was in contact with the Russian diplomat during the campaign and Trump's transition to the White House.
Kislyak is known for making strong connections in Washington and for not embodying the stereotypical personality traits usually associated with Russian officials. “He could have been rough and abrasive and a Putin-style Russian Cold Warrior, which he was not," said one European ambassador about Kislyak's demeanor during a debate. "He played it very softly. Because he was not what people expected him to be, he ingratiated himself with the audience.” In reference to Kislyak's way of working during a congressional office tour, the European ambassador said, “He didn’t play the Russian card. He was a team player.”
While Sessions' communication with Kislyak is not illegal, the fact that he chose to lie about and hide the his conversations with the Russian ambassador is noteworthy.