Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was a top Donald Trump adviser during in the 2016 presidential campaign, admitted under oath for the first time on Wednesday that it was “possible” he discussed specific Trump policy issues with Sergei Kislyak, who was then Russian ambassador to the United States, at a meeting in Sessions’ Senate office on September 8.
“It could have been in the meeting in my office or at the convention that some comment was made about what Trump’s positions were,” Sessions told the committee. “I think that’s possible.”
The meeting occurred more than three weeks after Trump was first briefed by U.S intelligence officials about Russian election meddling and cyber hacking. At the August 17 briefing — the first received by Trump and his aides after he officially became the Republican presidential nominee — intelligence officials informed Trump that they had uncovered “direct links” between the Russian government of President Vladimir Putin and the hacking and public release of Democratic National Committee emails about a month earlier, according to an NBC News report.
Sessions had earlier denied under oath that he held any meetings with Russian officials during the campaign, then later admitted the meetings with Kislayk, but claimed that no policy issues were discussed.
Despite the knowledge that the Russian government had committed crimes to influence the 2016 election, Trump continued to publicly dismiss the Russian connection — and in fact to question the idea that any hacking had taken place at all — saying at a presidential debate in October, “I notice anytime anything wrong happens they like to say the Russians are — [Hillary Clinton] doesn’t know if it’s the Russians doing the hacking. Maybe there is no hacking.”
While Trump questioned the assessments of the U.S. intelligence experts, he continued to publicly offer praise for Putin. By one CNN count, Trump made nearly 80 statements praising Putin leading up to, and in the aftermath of, the November presidential election.
And despite what Trump knew, Sessions nonetheless met with Kislyak on September 8 and now says it was “possible” he discussed Trump’s policies with the Russian ambassador. While Sessions did not specify in his Wednesday testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee which policies he may have discussed with Kislyak, it was widely reported that Putin has long sought that U.S. economic sanctions against Russia be lifted.
In fact, according to news reports over the summer, Trump attempted to ease the sanctions on Russia almost immediately following his inauguration on January 20 of 2017. Those sanctions were imposed under President Barack Obama, and according to the senior sanctions coordinator under Obama, Dan Fried, Trump began pressuring the State Department to roll back the sanctions in January.
“There was serious consideration by the White House to unilaterally rescind the sanctions,” Fried said, adding that he received “panicky” phone calls from State Department officials who desperately wanted to resist Trump’s effort to lift the Russia sanctions — with nothing offered in return by the Russians. Ultimately, the State Department managed to put a halt to Trump’s effort to grant Russia relief from the U.S. sanctions.
Sessions told the Senate Intelligence Committee that he was unaware of any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russians to sway the presidential election in Trump’s favor, which U.S. intelligence agencies believe was a primary purpose of the Russian meddling campaign.
However, Sessions also claimed he was unaware of the June 2016 meeting between Russian agents and Trump’s son Domald Trump Jr. — as well as Trump’s son-in-law and top adviser Jared Kushner and his campaign manager Paul Manafort — which was supposed to be a discussion of information damaging to Hillary Clinton gathered by the Russian government.
Sessions’ “possible” discussion of Trump Russia policy with Kislyak three weeks after the Trump campaign knew about the Russian hacking designed to influence the election could also be considered collusion, some experts now say.
[Featured Image by Carolyn Kaster/AP Images]