An internal FBI email released Monday largely confirms what Attorney General Jeff Sessions said about why he did not include brief meetings with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kisylak while he was U.S. Senator.
Sessions, according to the unnamed FBI agent author of the email, was “not required to list foreign government contacts while in official government business unless he developed personal relationships from such contacts.”
The email features a Sessions aide asking the FBI agent if he had told Sessions he did not need to disclose those meetings with Kisylak and many other foreign agents in his Senate office. The agent did not recall specifically telling Sessions’ staff that before he submitted the SF-86 security clearance disclosure forms on which Sessions omitted his meetings, but confirmed that was his understanding of how the forms were handled.
This was exactly the explanation Sessions’s staff had gave, this May, to CNN and other outlets – many of whom, like CNN, reported the revelation as a scandal. On Monday, CNN acknowledged the emails, which contradict the expert they cited in May. “My interpretation is that a member of Congress would still have to reveal the appropriate foreign government contacts notwithstanding it was on official business,” Mark Zaid, a Washington attorney, told CNN then.
“As a United States Senator, the Attorney General met hundreds — if not thousands — of foreign dignitaries and their staff,” spokesman Ian Prior told CNN at the time. “In filling out the SF-86 form, the Attorney General’s staff consulted with those familiar with the process, as well as the FBI investigator handling the background check, and was instructed not to list meetings with foreign dignitaries and their staff connected with his Senate activities.”
The document was obtained in a Freedom of Information Act request by “Right Wing Watch,” a project of the George Soros-funded far-left group People for the American Way. Apparently searching for evidence that Sessions was deceiving the public about his reasons for not including the meetings on clearance disclosure forms, Right Wing Watch played off the email as raising “more questions than it answers” and characterized the fact that the agent did not recall saying how to fill out SF-86 as suggesting the FBI did not, in fact, advise Sessions he need not include the official meetings with Kislyak.
“If the FBI did not tell Sessions in 2016 to omit the conversations with Kislyak from his security clearance form, who did?” Elliot Mincberg, a senior fellow at People For the American Way said in their press release. “If the FBI did not tell Sessions in 2016 to omit the conversations with Kislyak from his security clearance form, who did? Does the FBI think that Sessions’ conversations with Kislyak, at which he reportedly discussed campaign-related matters, were ‘official government business’?”
Sessions has been repeatedly attacked over his meetings and encounters with Kislyak during the 2016 Presidential campaign. In addition to the meetings in his office, he has disclosed a brief encounter at the Republican National Convention and admitted the two may have breifly spoken at Washington, D.C.’s Mayflower Hotel. Months later, Democrats have continued to question Sessions’s account.
Sessions went so far as to openly mock the implication of impropriety last month at his address to the Federalist Society, a conservative lawyers’ group. “Is Ambassador Kislyk in the room? Any Russians? … Anyone been to Russia?” he joked with the crowd.