The Trump administration has been hit by a fresh storm over dealings with Moscow after attorney general Jeff Sessions was found to have not disclosed his contacts with the Russian ambassador to the US in the thick of the race for the White House in 2016 in which he was a top adviser to the Republican nominee, Donald Trump.
Sessions, who was then a Republican senator, had met ambassador Sergey Kislyak, in his chamber in Capitol Hill in September during the peak of a controversy about Russian hacking of the computer network of the Democratic party, and once before on the sidelines of the Republican party convention in July.
During his confirmation hearing as attorney general in January, Sessions was asked what he would do if he found evidence of contacts between Trump campaign officials and Russia. “I’m not aware of any of those activities. I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians,” he had said.
To a specific question if he himself had any contacts, he had said “No”.
The Washington Post reported on Wednesday reported his two meetings that led to calls for Sessions’ resignation by Democrats, who have accused him of misleading congress.
“After lying under oath to Congress about his own communications with the Russians, the Attorney General must resign,” House minority leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.
Though not going as far as to join the call for his ouster, even Republicans seemed troubled about the meetings. Top lawmakers are asking Sessions to recuse himself from the ongoing investigation of alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election by the FBI, which now reports to him as attorney general.
Sessions said in a statement Wednesday he “never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign. I have no idea what this allegation is about. It is false”.
Sessions, an immigration hawk and outspoken critic of the H-1B temporary visa programme watched closely by India, is the second member of Trump’s team to come under a cloud for contacts with Moscow. The first, then National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, was forced to resign after he was found to have misled Vice-President Mike Pence about his phone calls with Kislyak in December.
Several US lawmakers have come forward since the report to say they meet ambassadors in the course of their work — Sessions’ office has said as a member of the senate armed services committee then, he had met several ambassadors including from India.
But Sessions did not disclose his meetings with the Russian envoy despite being asked about it specifically. The Washington Post asked all 26 members of the armed services committee if they had met the Russian ambassador in 2016. It heard back from 20 of them, and all said they had not.