After U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions admitted he met twice with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak during last year’s presidential campaign and failed to disclose those meetings during his Senate confirmation hearing, the new administration continues to grapple with other revelations of previously undisclosed meetings with Kislyak.
Sessions recused himself Thursday from any federal investigation of alleged Russian meddling into the 2016 presidential election. President Donald Trump and White House officials also must contend, however, with the fallout from meetings in December at Trump Tower in New York between the ambassador and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, and with since-ousted National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.
Trump fired Flynn after just 24 days on the job when information emerged that Flynn had lied to top officials about the nature of his own conversations with the Russian ambassador.
While House spokeswoman Hope Hicks said Thursday the purpose of the meeting at Trump Tower was to “establish a line of communication.” She said Kushner also had met with representatives of as many as two dozen other countries, which is common with an incoming administration.
There is nothing inappropriate about incoming administration officials meeting with representatives of foreign governments.
The Trump administration denied for months, though, that there had been contact between anyone in the campaign and Russian officials. Of all the foreign representatives who met with Trump officials, only Russia is accused of hacking into Democratic Party emails in an effort to help Trump beat Hillary Clinton in the November election.
Two congressional investigations into Russia’s meddling in the election are underway, as well as one by the F.B.I. The highest ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, which is conducting one of the probes, has accused F.B.I. Director James Comey of withholding information, raising the possibility of having to subpoena the law enforcement agency.
“In order for us to do our investigation in a thorough and credible way, we’re going need the F.B.I. to fully cooperate, to be willing to tells us the length and breadth of any counterintelligence investigations they are conducting,” Congressman Adam Schiff told reporters Thursday after a committee briefing with Comey.
Schiff suggested the Sessions-led Justice Department, which oversees the F.B.I., could have advised Comey to withhold information.
“It was unclear whether that decision was a decision he was making on his own or a decision he is making in consultation with the Department of Justice,” Schiff said.
The F.B.I. did not comment on Schiff’s remarks.
Meetings between Ambassador Kislyak and Trump’s campaign also occurred during last July’s Republican National Convention, where campaign officials worked behind the scenes to ensure the Republican party platform did not propose providing weapons to Ukraine to defend itself from Russian and rebel forces.
The USA Today newspaper reported Thursday that two Trump campaign national security experts met with Ambassador Kislyak at the convention in Cleveland.
Sessions said Thursday his first of two meetings with Kislyak took place at the convention, where he and Kislyak talked about terrorism and Ukraine, describing the meeting as “testy” at one point when the matter of Russian involvement in Ukraine came up.
Sessions said the second meeting with the ambassador occurred at his Capitol Hill office in September and was part of his job as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Questions have hovered about whether Sessions talked about the campaign with the ambassador. Some lawmakers from both parties demanded Sessions recuse himself, while some Democrats said he should resign, accusing him of lying under oath.
WATCH: Sessions on contact with Russian officials
President Donald Trump, who earlier Thursday said he does not think Sessions should recuse himself, called his attorney general “an honest man” who could have stated his response at the hearing more accurately.
“The Democrats are overplaying their hand. They lost the election and now they have lost their grip on reality. It is a total witch hunt,” the president’s statement said.
At Sessions’ January 10 confirmation hearing, Democratic Senator Al Franken asked Sessions what he would do if evidence surfaced that anyone in the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government.
“I’m not aware of any of those activities. I have been called a surrogate 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 replied.
He told the reporters Thursday he never had any intention to mislead anyone and that his answers were “honest and correct” as he understood the question at that time.
But he said “in retrospect, I should have slowed down and said, “But I did meet one Russian official a couple of times. That would be the ambassador.”
Sessions said Thursday he decided to recuse himself in any investigation into alleged Russian interference in the election upon the recommendation of his staff at the Justice Department. He said no one should see his decision as confirmation that any probe is currently underway.
The attorney general is the top law-enforcement officer in the United States. The White House and Republicans have accused Democrats of playing politics with the issue.