Jeff Sessions discussed Donald Trump’s White House bid with the Russian ambassador, according to US intelligence intercepts cited in the Washington Post on Friday, contrary to the attorney general’s public assertions.
Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to Washington, told his superiors in Moscow that he discussed campaign-related matters, including policy issues important to Moscow, with Sessions during the 2016 presidential race, according to current and former US intelligence officials.
Kislyak’s accounts of two meetings with Sessions when he was a US senator and a senior foreign policy adviser to Trump — intercepted by US spy agencies — contradict Sessions’ version of the meetings.
The Washington Post cited an unnamed US official who called Sessions’ statements “misleading” and “contradicted by other evidence”.
The intelligence reportedly indicates that Sessions and Kislyak had “substantive” discussions on matters including Trump’s positions on Russia-related issues and prospects for US-Russia relations in a Trump administration.
After initially failing to disclose his contact with Kislyak, Sessions later said that the meetings were not about the campaign and then, in March, recused himself from the Russian probe when coming under pressure for not having disclosed the meetings. “I never had meetings with Russian operatives or Russian intermediaries about the Trump campaign,” he said in March.
Sessions’ recusal has incensed Trump. In an interview with The New York Times on Wednesday, Trump said: “Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the [attorney general] job, and I would have picked somebody else. […] It’s extremely unfair, and that’s a mild word, to the president. […] Jeff Sessions gave some bad answers.”
However, the US justice department has sought to mitigate the latest allegations. “Obviously I cannot comment on the reliability of what anonymous sources describe in a wholly uncorroborated intelligence intercept that The Washington Post has not seen and that has not been provided to me,” said spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores in a statement to the newspaper. She repeated that Sessions did not discuss interference in the election.
Trump’s frustration towards Sessions has sparked speculation that he might fire his attorney general or that Sessions might resign. However, Sessions told reporters on Thursday that he would stay in the job “as long as that is appropriate”.
The intelligence intercepts came just after Sean Spicer resigned on Friday as White House spokesman, following the appointment of New York financier Anthony Scaramucci as the new White House communications director.