The Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C. responded Thursday to a Democratic uproar over Attorney General Jeff Sessions not mentioning during his confirmation hearing that he met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak on two occasions last year.
“The embassy doesn’t comment on numerous contacts with local partners, which occur on a daily basis in line with diplomatic practice,”Russian spokesman Nikolay Lakhonin said in an email to Breitbart News.
The uproar began after The Washington Post reported Wednesday evening that Sessions had met with Kislyak twice last year — once at an event on the sidelines of the Republican National Convention in July that hosted about 50 ambassadors, and another time in his office in September.
Democrats say Sessions lied or misled them when he told them during his confirmation hearing that he had no communications with the Russians as a surrogate of the Trump campaign.
A Justice Department spokeswoman for Sessions told Buzzfeed he spoke to Kislyak as a normal part of his duties as a senator on the Senate Armed Services Committee at that time.
“There was absolutely nothing misleading about his answer. Last year, the Senator had over 25 conversations with foreign ambassadors as a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, including the British, Korean, Japanese, Polish, Indian, Chinese, Canadian, Australian, German, and Russian ambassadors,” said Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores.
“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,” she said.
Asked if he would recuse himself from an investigation into ties between Trump’s campaign and Russia, Sessions told NBC. “I have said whenever it’s appropriate, I will recuse myself. There’s no doubt about that.”
GOP senators, and at least one Democratic senator, are rallying to Sessions’ defense.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) said it’s “very normal” for senators to meet with ambassadors, and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) said such meetings happen “all the time.”
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) told CNN that he has met with the Russian ambassador and that it’s “not unusual.”
“I’ve met with the Russian ambassador with a group, in my capacity, with a group of other senators … That happens. We meet with all the ambassadors, or try to, anyway, in order to build relationships … that’s not unusual,” he said. “That’s in my official capacity. That’s nothing. That’s my job.”
Manchin was the only Democrat to vote to confirm Sessions as attorney general.
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) denied ever meeting with Kislyak, but then acknowledged through a spokeswoman that she did meet with the Russian ambassador along with other senators in 2013, as well as speaking to him via phone.
“She did attend a group meeting about adoptions with other Senators, and had a brief proactive call with the ambassador amid calls to several other parties to the Iran nuclear deal,” her spokeswoman Sarah Feldman told The Hill
Sessions declared at a press conference held Thursday that he would recuse himself from any investigation into ties between Trump’s campaign and Russia.