Jeff Sessions Likely Met Russian Ambassador A Third Time

The attorney general initially denied any contact with the Russians, then later admitted to just two meetings.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions was forced to amend prior testimony to Congress this week, acknowledging that contrary to an earlier statement, he’d encountered the Russian ambassador to the United States twice in the last year.

Sessions appears to have left out a third instance in which they crossed paths.

In April of 2016, Sessions attended a VIP reception at a hotel in Washington, D.C., with President Donald Trump and roughly two dozen guests, including four ambassadors. One of them was Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. The cocktail meet-and-greet took place in a private room at the Mayflower Hotel near the White House. Shortly thereafter, Trump delivered a foreign policy speech in the hotel’s ballroom, where he called for improved U.S.-Russia relations. Kislyak was seated in the front row.

Though the event was small, it is unclear if Sessions and Kislyak spoke directly, and a spokeswoman for the attorney general did not respond immediately to questions about the event from The Huffington Post. Organizers said the event included a receiving line.

Sessions did not mention the Mayflower event when he was asked during his confirmation hearings about contacts between the presidential campaign and Russian officials. Nor did he put that event in his amended testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee this week.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks at a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington, D.C., on March 2, 2017.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks at a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington, D.C., on March 2, 2017.
Yuri Gripas/Reuters

The Center for the National Interest, the conservative foreign policy organization that hosted Trump’s speech at the Mayflower, invited Kislyak to the reception. An April 2016 story in Politico noted that Sessions also attended the event and was in the Senate Room of the Mayflower, along with “ambassadors.”

On Wednesday, the center issued a statement that acknowledged that Kislyak and Sessions both attended the reception but added that it was “not aware of any conversation” between the two.

“However, in a small group setting like this one, we consider it unlikely that anyone could have engaged in a meaningful private conversation without drawing attention from others present,” the statement read.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders, meanwhile, said the president was there “for about five minutes” before going to the podium for his speech. There were “several ambassadors” also present, Sanders said, adding that the suggestion that Kislyak and Trump “met or that a meeting took place is disingenuous and absurd.”

Last week, Sessions recused himself from any involvement in future Justice Department investigations into Trump campaign contacts with Russia after U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russian intelligence agents had meddled in the U.S. election.

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