The Washington Post just made Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s rotten week even worse.
In what appears to be yet another leaked NSA intercept, WaPo reports citing ‘current and former American officials’, that Sergey Kislyak, the now infamous former Russian ambassador to the US, told his superiors in Moscow that he discussed campaign-related matters – including policy issues important to Moscow – with Sessions during the 2016 presidential race. If accurate, the report would amount to yet another straw on the camel’s back of Sessions’ relationship with the former ambassador – who has been at the center of many of the US media’s stories alleging collusion between Russian officials and the Trump campaign.
When he announced his intentions to recuse himself from the DOJ’s probe into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign back in March, Sessions adamantly denied allegations that he had discussed the campaign with Russian officials, including former ambassador Kislyak. Sessions opted to recuse himself after he failed to disclose his contacts with Kislyak during his confirmation hearing with the Senate back in February.
“I never had meetings with Russian operatives or Russian intermediaries about the Trump campaign,” Sessions said in March when he announced that he would recuse himself from matters relating to the FBI probe of Russian interference in the election and any connections to the Trump campaign.
Sessions initially failed to disclose his contacts with Kislyak and then said that the meetings were not about the Trump campaign.
However, Kislyak’s accounts of two conversations with Sessions, then a top foreign policy adviser to Republican candidate Donald Trump, were intercepted by US spy agencies, which monitor the communications of senior Russian officials both in the United States and in Russia.
As WaPo details, one former official said that the intelligence indicates that Sessions and Kislyak had “substantive” discussions on matters including Trump’s positions on Russia-related issues and prospects for U.S.-Russia relations in a Trump administration.
Officials emphasized that the information contradicting Sessions comes from U.S. intelligence on Kislyak’s communications with the Kremlin, and acknowledged that the Russian ambassador could have mischaracterized or exaggerated the nature of his interactions.
However, WaPo waited until the end of the story to disclose one key detail about Kislyak’s reports to his superiors concerning his meetings with Sessions. According to Kislyak, Sessions didn’t discuss anything that could’ve influenced the election – i.e. nothing here fits in with the Don Jr. collusion narrative. And, more importantly, there’s no way to corroborate Kislyak’s characterization of the meeting. Apparently, Kislyak isn’t a meticulous notetaker, unlike former FBI Director James Comey.
As the ambassador to the US, Kislyak is expected to meet with US lawmakers.
“Obviously I cannot comment on the reliability of what anonymous sources describe in a wholly uncorroborated intelligence intercept that the Washington Post has not seen and that has not been provided to me,” said Sarah Isgur Flores, a Justice Department spokeswoman in a statement.
She reiterated that Sessions did not discuss interference in the election.
However, after the tempestuous week that Sessions has had, this casts more doubt on the Attorney General’s “answers” in the past.
As a reminder, Trump, in an interview this week, expressed frustration with Sessions’ recusing himself from the Russia probe and indicated that he regretted his decision to make the lawmaker from Alabama the nation’s top law enforcement officer. Trump also faulted Sessions as giving “bad answers” during his confirmation hearing about his Russian contacts during the campaign.
When asked earlier this week about a falling out between himself and Trump, Sessions denied that he has any problems with the president, adding that he has no intentions of stepping aside.
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Finally we note that, although the WaPo report is unconfirmed – as the Flores quote above clearly indicates – it could give Trump just the cover he needs to fire Sessions.
In that case he can appoint another attorney general who won’t have conflicts and does not need to recuse from the Russia probe – thus giving Trump justification to fire Mueller and have the new DOJ head continue the probe, likely quashing the Russia narrative once and for all.
Not that this would even matter. As recent polls show, the American people stopped caring about Russia months ago.