Sessions isn’t the only one to have met with Russian Ambassador Kislyak
Washington, D.C. – Democrats were horrified after reports broke last week concerning two meetings between then-Senator Jeff Sessions and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
The Washington Post reported Sessions spoke with Kislyak on two different occasions in 2016. One interaction took place at a Heritage Foundation event during the Republican National Convention. The other interaction was a private meeting between Sessions and Kislyak in the Senator’s office.
Justice officials say Sessions’ met with Kislyak in his capacity as a senator and ranking member of the Armed Services Committee.
For most lawmakers, both Republicans and Democrats, the main issue is not necessarily the meetings themselves, but how Sessions answered a particular question during his confirmation hearing regarding contact with Russia.
During his January confirmation hearing, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) asked Sessions what he would do with evidence that anyone associated with the campaign had contact with Russia during the election.
“I’m not aware of any of those activities. I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I … did not have communications with the Russians, and I’m unable to comment on it,” Sessions responded. The full clip can be viewed here (at the 2:10 mark).
Some lawmakers are concerned Sessions misled Congress with his ambiguous answer. Others have attempted to portray Sessions’ meetings with an ambassador as an extremely rare event.
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) tweeted that she has been on the Senate Armed Services Committee for 10 years and has had “no call or meeting with the Russian Ambassador.”
I've been on the Armed Services Com for 10 years.No call or meeting w/Russian ambassador. Ever. Ambassadors call members of Foreign Rel Com.
— Claire McCaskill (@clairecmc) March 2, 2017
However, this was quickly proven false. A pair of tweets from McCaskill herself shows phone calls and meetings with the Russian ambassador.
Off to meeting w/Russian Ambassador. Upset about the arbitrary/cruel decision to end all US adoptions,even those in process.
— Claire McCaskill (@clairecmc) January 30, 2013
Today calls with British, Russian, and German Ambassadors re: Iran deal. #doingmyhomework
— Claire McCaskill (@clairecmc) August 6, 2015
McCaskill later clarified the original tweet, saying she meant she never met privately with the ambassador. She just didn’t have enough Twitter characters to add “one-on-one.” However, free of the 140-character limit, she still made the same claim in her press release. Factcheck.org rated her statement as “false.”
McCaskill wasn’t the only Democrat to deny meeting with the Russian ambassador despite evidence showing otherwise. In an interview with Politico last Friday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was asked if she has ever met with the Russian ambassador.
“Not with this Russian ambassador, no,” Pelosi responded after a long pause. The exchange can be viewed here.
Pelosi attempted to clarify the statements saying she, too, meant to say she had no “one-on-one” meetings with Kislyak.
President Donald Trump jumped into the action tweeting a photo of Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) smiling over donuts and coffee with Vladimir Putin. Trump needled the Democrats, mockingly calling for an investigation into Schumer’s ties with Russia.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 3, 2017
Members of Congress aren’t the only ones meeting with Kislyak. The Daily Caller reported the Russian ambassador visited the White House 22 times from 2009-2016. At least four of those visits in 2016 during the presidential campaign.
The number of times Kislyak visited the White House does not include the various holiday parties or other receptions with large groups of people. Of the 22 times included in the report, most of the appointments had five or fewer visitors.
Since the report blew up last week, Sessions has recused himself from any investigation involving the Russians hacking into the 2016 presidential election. For some Minnesota Democrats, recusal is not enough.
Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) sent out a tweet saying Trump should fire Sessions.
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) retweeted comments from Rep. Pelosi calling for Sessions to resign or be removed from office. He followed the retweet with a tweet of his own saying “perjury is a felony.”
If Democrats get their way, Sessions would not be the first cabinet member to resign following interactions with Kislyak. Last month then-National Security Advisor Michael Flynn was forced to resign over a phone call with Kislyak.