[UPDATED BELOW] When Attorney General Jeff Sessions was getting "grilled" by Congress during his confirmation hearings, Senator Al Franken asked him about the Trump campaign's contact with the Russian government during the campaign. Sessions said, under oath, "I didn’t have—did not have communications with the Russians, and I’m unable to comment on it," but it turns out that was a teensy little alternative fact—U.S. investigators with the Justice Department say Sessions spoke with the Russian Ambassador twice in 2016.
Here is Franken asking Sessions, a close and early ally of Trump during his campaign, what he would do if he discovered anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign had contact with the Russian government during the campaign. Here is Sessions denying he had contact with the Russian government during the campaign:
As first reported by the Washington Post, investigators say Sessions spoke with Sergei Kislyak, Russian ambassador to the U.S., during Trump's campaign—Kislyak is notably the same diplomat with whom former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn discussed Russian sanctions the month before Trump took office, the discovery of which led to Flynn's dismissal.
Sessions, then a senator, met with Kislyak in July and September, according to investigators, the latter meeting occurring at the height of what the CIA has determined was Russian cyber-intervention in the U.S. election.
Sessions denied discussing the campaign with the Russians yesterday. "I never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign," he said in a statement. "I have no idea what this allegation is about. It is false." But Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Flores told reporters that Sessions spoke with Kislyak during the Republican National Convention and Kislyak met with Sessions in the senator's office one other time last year. Flores described the meeting as "short and informal." Sessions was a senior member with the Armed Services Committee at the time, as well as a Trump campaign surrogate.
A Justice Department official told the Times that the first time the Russian ambassador approached Sessions, at the RNC, he was one of several diplomats to approach him after Sessions gave a speech at a Heritage Foundation-sponsored event for ambassadors. At that event, the ambassador "thanked Mr. Sessions for his remarks and invited him to join them at various events they were sponsoring, but he made no commitments to do so," according to the Justice Department.
Flores says Sessions did not mislead the Senate at his confirmation hearing. "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," Flores said, noting that Sessions had spoken to a number of foreign ambassadors as a member of the committee.
Naturally, Congress is a little divided over this snafu. Some Democrats are demanding Sessions's resignation, considering it appears he lied under oath—House Representative Nancy Pelosi said in a statement that "Sessions is not fit to serve as the top law enforcement officer of our country and must resign." Representative Elijah Cummings called Sessions's testimony "demonstrably false," and called for an independent committee to investigate. And Senator Claire McCaskill noted that she is also on the Armed Services Committee, and she doesn't buy Sessions' story about meeting with Kislyak as part of his duty:
— Frank Thorp V (@frankthorp) March 2, 2017
However, it seems NO ONE can remember meeting the Russian Ambassador? Poor Kislyak is so forgettable.
Claire McCaskill says she’s had “no call or meeting w/Russian ambassador. Ever.” But she tweeted about two. It’s easy to forget. pic.twitter.com/kavd29WOg5
— Charles C. W. Cooke (@charlescwcooke) March 2, 2017
While some Democrats are calling for a special prosecutor to investigate the Trump campaign's Russian connections, Republicans like Representative Jason Chaffetz, Senator Lindsay Graham, and Representative Kevin McCarthy are now saying that, at most, Sessions should just recuse himself. "I think—the trust of the American people—you recuse yourself from these situations," McCarthy said on "Morning Joe" today. "For any investigation going forward, you want to make sure everybody trusts the investigation."
Oh well, guess everyone already forgot about that time Trump was so good at reading stuff from a teleprompter!
Update 10:24 a.m.: Senator Chuck Schumer is holding a press conference right now and just called on Sessions to resign:
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) March 2, 2017