WASHINGTON: Attorney General Jeff Sessions had two conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States during the presidential campaign season last year, contact likely to fuel calls for him to recuse himself from a Justice Department investigation into Russian interference in the election.
Sessions, an early supporter of President Donald Trump and a policy adviser to the Republican candidate, did not disclose those communications at his confirmation hearing in January when asked whether "anyone affiliated" with the campaign had contact with the Russians.
Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said "there was absolutely nothing misleading about his answer."
Sessions had meetings last year with more than 25 foreign ambassadors in his role as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and had two separate interactions with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, the department said.
One was an office visit in the fall, and the other occurred in a group setting following a Heritage Foundation speech that Sessions gave during the summer.
Revelations of the contact, first reported by The Washington Post, triggered calls from members of Congress for Sessions to back out of any involvement in the FBI's probe.
"If reports are accurate that Attorney General Sessions — a prominent surrogate for Donald Trump — met with Ambassador Kislyak during the campaign, and failed to disclose this fact during his confirmation, it is essential that he recuse himself from any role in the investigation of Trump campaign ties to the Russians," said Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. "This is not even a close call; it is a must."
At the confirmation hearing in January, Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota alerted Sessions to allegations of contact between Russia and Trump aides during the 2016 election. He asked Sessions what he would do if there was evidence that anyone from the campaign was in touch with Russia.
Sessions said he was "unaware of those activities."
"I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I didn't have, did not have communications with the Russians, and I'm unable to comment on it," Sessions said.
Flores, the Justice Department spokeswoman, said that response was not misleading.
"He was asked during the hearing about communications between Russia and the Trump campaign — not about meetings he took as a senator and a member of the Armed Services Committee," she said.
The White House did not immediately comment.