United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke twice with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. while acting as a surrogate for the Trump presidential campaign, a detail not revealed during testimony before Congress, multiple reports revealed late Wednesday evening.
In the latest in a string of allegations of dubious Russian affiliation on the part of Trump’s team, Justice Department officials say that the then-senator and vocal Trump campaigner met with ambassador Sergey Kislyak privately on two occasions. The first meeting happened in the summer of 2016, and the second in September amid allegations that Russia orchestrated cyberattacks intended to tamper with the 2016 presidential election.
Kislyak is the same Moscow representative that Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, communicated with during the presidential transition. He was later forced to resign for misleading top White House officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, over the nature of their conversations.
The outstanding controversy stems back to Sessions’ confirmation hearing testimony in January, when he was explicitly asked whether he had, as part of the campaign team, ever met with Russian diplomats.
“I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign,” he answered at the time. “I did not have communications with the Russians.”
High-ranking Democrats are now leading the call for Sessions’ resignation under penalty of perjury, saying that he willfully lied about his Russian connection at his hearing.
“After lying under oath to Congress about his own communications with the Russians, the Attorney General must resign. Sessions is not fit to serve as the top law enforcement officer of our country,” House of Representatives Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.
Leading Republicans are also reacting strongly. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the House Oversight Committee, took to Twitter to call on Sessions to “recuse himself” from FBI investigations into the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russian officials.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California, appeared on MSNBC to suggest Sessions step down to keep “the trust of the American people.”
A spokeswoman for Sessions has confirmed that the meetings did take place, but took issue with claims that he lied, insisting instead that he was acting as a senator and not a member of Trump’s campaign during the conversations. “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,” spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said.
Despite the mounting pressure, however, the former Arkansas senator is holding his ground and denying the allegations: “I never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign. I have no idea what this allegation is about. It is false.”
“I have said whenever it’s appropriate, I will recuse myself,” Sessions added. “There’s no doubt about that.”
The White House also quickly dismissed the reports, with CNN quoting a senior official’s assessment that “this is the latest attack against the Trump administration by partisan Democrats.”