Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) on Thursday defended Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s meetings with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak last year as “very normal” in his line of work as a senator, and said he’s had 20 such meetings himself in the last six weeks.
“I know and have worked with Attorney General Sessions. He has said he had no discussions with Russian officials regarding the election, and I take him at his word. Part of the job of a United States Senator involves talking to the ambassadors of countries,” Blunt said in a statement.
“I’ve talked to at least twenty ambassadors in the last six weeks. It would have been very normal for Sessions, as a senator, to have talked to the Russian ambassador without discussing the election,” Blunt said in a statement. An aide said the Russian ambassador was not one of the 20.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, also defended Sessions.
“Anyone who knows Jeff Sessions as I do can vouch for his integrity and honesty. There’s no scandal in a senator meeting an ambassador, which happens all the time,” he said.
The Russian Embassy in Washington told Breitbart News on Thursday that the embassy “doesn’t comment on numerous contacts with local partners, which occur on a daily basis in line with diplomatic practice.”
The Washington Post reported Wednesday evening that Sessions had spoken with the Kislyak twice last year — once briefly after a Heritage Foundation event in July on the sidelines of the Republican National Convention that about 50 ambassadors attended, and another time in his office in September.
At Sessions’ confirmation hearing as attorney general, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) asked Sessions, then still the Alabama Republican senator, specifically about an “exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government.”
FRANKEN: CNN just published a story alleging that the intelligence community provided documents to the president-elect last week, that included information that ‘Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump.’ These documents also allegedly say ‘there was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government.’ Again, I’m telling you this as it’s coming out, so you know. But if it’s true, it’s obviously extremely serious, and if there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign, what will you do?
SESSIONS: Senator Franken, I’m not aware of any of those activities. I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians, and I’m unable to comment on it.
A spokeswoman for Sessions, Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores, released a statement:
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. 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.
Democrats are calling for Sessions to resign, or recuse himself from any investigation into Russian involvement in the U.S. elections. They have also called for an independent review, outside of a current review being conducted by the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Blunt said the best place to determine the facts is the committee:
The Senate Intelligence Committee is the best place to determine the facts regarding Russian involvement in our elections. Certainly the Russian government’s pattern in recent Eastern European elections continues today in France and Germany. Finding out exactly what the Russian government did or assisted in during our elections can help protect the democratic process in other countries as well as ours.
He said it would take “at least six months” for any new investigation to get to where the intelligence committee is now.
“I intend to go to CIA headquarters in the next week to look at all the documents and reports myself,” he said. “Our investigation should talk to everyone that any reasonable person would think should be talked to, and look at any material a reasonable person would think should be looked at.”
Cotton agreed: “I’m disappointed the Democrats are distorting the facts to impugn Attorney General Sessions’s character. The Senate Intelligence Committee’s review is proceeding, and we should follow the facts where they lead.”