WASHINGTON — Prior to his nomination as attorney general last year, then-Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions met with the Russian ambassador to the United States, but did not disclose the contacts during questioning during his contentious confirmation, Justice Department officials confirmed late Wednesday.
Sessions, who took office last month as the nation's chief law enforcement officer, met with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak twice last year — in July and September — while the FBI investigated Russia's meddling in the U.S. election. Sessions' meetings with the ambassador were confirmed by his spokeswoman, Sarah Isgur Flores, and another Justice Department official, who is not authorized to comment publicly.
In a released statement late Wednesday, Sessions denied discussing campaign-related matters with Russian officials.
"I never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign," Sessions said. "I have no idea what this allegation is about. It is false."
Yet when asked in January by Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., whether he was aware if campaign associates had any contact with Russian government officials, Sessions said he did not have knowledge of such contacts nor did he communicate with Russian officials.
He provided a similar response to written questions submitted by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.
"There was absolutely nothing misleading about his answer,'' Flores said in a written statement, adding that Sessions took those meetings as a member of the Senate Armed Service Committee and not as a surrogate for President Trump's campaign.
Sessions himself issued a terse statement last night, saying simply, "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."
The disclosures about Sessions communications, first reported by the Washington Post, come as calls have mounted for Sessions to recuse himself from overseeing the FBI's continuing investigation into suspected contacts between Trump associates and Russian officials.
Late Wednesday, California Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said that it was now "essential'' that the attorney general remove himself from any involvement in the federal inquiry.