The Washington Post is reporting that Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. told his supervisors in Moscow that he discussed campaign-related matters with Attorney General Jeff Sessions last year during the presidential election season, contrary to what Sessions has said.
The Post quoted “current and former U.S. officials” in its story, which said U.S. intelligence agents intercepted communications from Ambassador Sergey Kislyak to his superiors about the meetings.
U.S. President Donald Trump blasted the leak of the highly classified information in an early-morning tweet Saturday, saying the leaks “must stop.”
Sessions said in his February confirmation hearing before the Senate that he did not recall having any contact with Russian officials while acting as a Trump foreign policy adviser last year.
In March, news reports revealed that Sessions had met at least twice with Kislyak: once in April 2016, before Donald Trump, then a Republican presidential candidate, gave a foreign policy speech, and again in July, on the sidelines of the Republican National Convention.
At that time, Sessions amended his earlier comments to say they had met, but had not discussed the Trump campaign in their meetings, and he recused himself from any investigations into Russian interference in the election.
The Post quotes one U.S. official as saying Sessions has provided “misleading” statements that are “contradicted by other evidence.” A former official told the Post that the two men had “substantive” discussions, including Trump’s positions on issues affecting Russia and what U.S.-Russia relations would look like under a Trump administration.
The Post reported that “current and former U.S. officials” say Sessions’ answers differ from those given by Kislyak to his bosses. Those officials emphasized that the Russian ambassador could have purposely misspoken if he suspected U.S. agents were monitoring his communications.
Contacted for comment, Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said in a statement: “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.”
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, who is attending the Aspen Security Conference in Colorado, was questioned about the Post story late Friday. He said, “I saw the headline. … I have come to the point where I no longer put any stock in headlines or breaking news.”
Kislyak and Flynn
Ambassador Kislyak was a factor in the downfall of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Flynn left his job in February after news reports revealed that he had had conversations with Kislyak about U.S. policy toward Russia. He had said publicly that no such conversations took place.
But the information about Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak was based on recordings of phone conversations made by U.S. intelligence agents, giving them proof of what the men talked about. In Sessions’ case, the reports are based only on Kislyak’s accounts of what was said.
Earlier this week President Trump gave an interview to The New York Times in which he expressed frustration with Sessions for recusing himself from Russia investigations. He also said Sessions gave “bad answers” about his contacts with Russian officials during his confirmation hearing. The comments have fueled speculation that Sessions may be asked to resign.
On Saturday, Trump raised further questions about Sessions’ work as attorney general, asking why he had not looked into dealings between associates of failed Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and the Russian government and former FBI director James Comey’s leaking of his notes.
Despite Trump’s ire, Sessions has said he plans to stay in the job “as long as that is appropriate.”
VOA National Security Correspondent Jeff Seldin contributed to this report.