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Donald Trump

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions discussed campaign with Russian ambassador, contrary to his claims, reports say

Ambassador told his superiors in Moscow he talked about campaign-related matters and significant policy issues during two meetings with Sessions, according to current and former US intelligence officials

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 July, 2017, 10:42am
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 July, 2017, 10:23pm

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions discussed Donald Trump’s White House bid with the Russian ambassador to Washington in 2016, according to reported US intelligence intercepts which contradict the US attorney general’s assurances that the campaign was not discussed.

Sergey Kislyak told his superiors in Moscow he talked about campaign-related matters and significant policy issues during two meetings with Sessions, according to current and former US intelligence officials, The Washington Post reported on Friday.

The ambassador’s accounts of the meetings – which US spy agencies intercepted – clash with those of Sessions and pile fresh pressure on the attorney general just days after the president publicly criticised him.

Sessions was a senator and senior foreign policy adviser to Trump during the presidential race. After being tapped to run the justice department, he initially failed to disclose his encounters with Kislyak and then said the meetings were not about the Trump campaign.

I never had meetings with Russian operatives or Russian intermediaries about the Trump campaign
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in March

The Post cited an unnamed US official who called Sessions’ statements “misleading” and “contradicted by other evidence”. An unnamed former official said the intelligence indicated Sessions and Kislyak had “substantive” discussions on matters including Trump’s positions on Russia-related issues and prospects for bilateral relations in a Trump administration, the paper reported.

The officials acknowledged that the ambassador could have mischaracterised the meetings in his briefings to Moscow.

The attorney general has repeatedly said he never discussed campaign-related issues with Russian officials and that it was in his capacity as a senator, not a Trump surrogate, that he met Kislyak.

“I never had meetings with Russian operatives or Russian intermediaries about the Trump campaign,” he said in March.

The apparent discrepancy with Kislyak’s version of events capped a torrid week for Sessions. Trump said in an interview published on Wednesday that he regretted appointing him after Sessions recused himself from investigations into links with the Trump campaign and Russia.

Slow drip of information about Russia connections threatens to undermine Donald Trump’s presidency

The president, marking six months in office, appeared to be venting concern that the investigation headed by Robert Mueller was reportedly expanding to include his business ties with Russia.

Sessions told reporters on Thursday that he would continue in his job “as long as that is appropriate”.

In a statement, a justice department spokeswoman told the paper: “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.”

In a separate development on Friday, the Senate judiciary committee said that next week it would interview the president’s son, Donald Trump Jnr, and his former campaign chief Paul Manafort behind closed doors rather than in public testimony, as originally planned.

Both men agreed to negotiate to provide the committee with documents and be interviewed by committee members and staff prior to a public hearing, the committee chairman, Chuck Grassley, and its ranking member, Dianne Feinstein, said in a statement.

“Therefore, we will not issue subpoenas for them tonight requiring their presence at Wednesday’s hearing but reserve the right to do so in the future,” the statement said.