As Democrats, some in the media, and even a handful of GOP lawmakers call on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from some Justice Department investigations, a Democratic senator defended him Thursday from allegations that he met improperly with the Russian ambassador before last year’s election.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said it is not unusual for senators to meet with ambassadors.
“I’ve met with the Russian ambassador with group in my capacity, with a group of other senators; yes, that happens.”
“I’ve met with the Russian ambassador with group in my capacity, with a group of other senators; yes, that happens,” he told CNN. “We meet with all the ambassadors, or try to, anyway, to build the relationships that you can have some dialogue … we can basically talk and have some type of interactions back and forth and know where in the world people are coming from. So, that’s not unusual.”
The Washington Post reported late Wednesday that Sessions met twice with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak last year — once at a Heritage Foundation event at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland and again in his Senate office in September. Sessions denied twice during his Senate confirmation hearing that he met with anyone connected to the Russian government, but a spokeswoman said the questions were in the context of the Trump campaign.
Sessions, himself, told an MSNBC reporter Thursday that he never discussed the presidential race with Kislyak.
“Well, I have not met with any Russians at any time to discuss any political campaign,” he said,. “And those remarks are unbelievable to me, and false. And I don’t have anything else to say about that.”
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Asked about the FBI probe into contacts between the Russian government and the Trump campaign, Sessions said, “Whenever it’s appropriate, I will recuse myself. There’s no doubt about that.”
Joseph diGenova, a former federal prosecutor, told LifeZette there was nothing untoward about Sessions’ meetings with Kislyak.
“He was not a private citizen,” he said. “He had every right to have the meetings … Calls for him to resign are not only silly, they are dangerous. They are designed to undermine the work of the Justice Department.”
During the confirmation hearing, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) asked Sessions what he would do if he came across evidence that anyone affiliated with the campaign had been in contact with the Russian government. He replied that he was not aware of any.
“I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians,” he said.
In addition, Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) asked in a written questionnaire: “Several of the President-Elect’s nominees or senior advisers have Russian ties. Have you been in contact with anyone connected to any part of the Russian government about the 2016 election, either before or after Election Day?”
Sessions simply answered, “No.”
To diGenova, the key part of the question is “about the 2016 election.” Both Leahy and Franken were asking about communications involving the campaign, he said.
“That is the context in which the question was asked,” he said.
Republican Party officials on Thursday highlighted hypocrisy of one of Sessions’ Democratic critics, Sen. Claire McCaskill. The Missouri Democrat, who served alongside Sessions on the Armed Services Committee, tweeted: “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.”
But in 2013, McCaskill tweeted: “Off to meeting w/Russian Ambassador. Upset about the arbitrary/cruel decision to end all US adoptions, even those in process.”
More recently, in August 2015, she tweeted: “Today calls with British, Russian, and German Ambassadors re: Iran deal.”