Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke twice with Russian ambassador before taking office, The Washington Post reports.
Jeff Sessions, while still a US senator, spoke twice last year with Russia’s ambassador, encounters he did not disclose when asked during his confirmation hearing to become attorney general about possible contacts between Donald Trump’s campaign and Russian officials, The Washington Post reported, citing Justice Department officials.
One of the meetings was a private conversation between Sessions and Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak that took place in September in the senator’s office, at the height of what US intelligence officials say was a Russian cyber campaign to upend the US presidential race, the Post reported.
Sessions in a statement denied ever meeting "with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign".
"I have no idea what this allegation is about. It is false," the statement read.
The previously undisclosed discussions could fuel new congressional calls for the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Russia’s alleged role in the 2016 presidential election, the Post said.
Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, was fired last month after he discussed US sanctions on Russia with Kislyak before Trump took office and misled Vice President Mike Pence about the conversations.
As attorney general, Sessions oversees the Justice Department, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which have been leading investigations into Russian meddling and any links to Trump’s associates.
When Sessions spoke with Kislyak in July and September, he was a senior member of the influential Senate Armed Services Committee as well as one of Trump’s top foreign policy advisers, according to the Post.
Sessions played a prominent role supporting Trump after formally joining the campaign in February 2016.
At his January 10 Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing, Sessions was asked by Democratic Senator Al Franken what he would do if he learned of any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of the 2016 campaign, the Post reported.
"I’m not aware of any of those activities," Sessions responded, according to the Post. He added: "I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians."
Officials said Sessions did not consider the conversations relevant to the lawmakers’ questions and did not remember in detail what he discussed with Kislyak, according to the Post.
"There was absolutely nothing misleading about his answer," Sarah Isgur Flores, Sessions’ spokeswoman, told the Post.
"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."
Justice officials said Sessions met with Kislyak on September 8 in his capacity as a member of the armed services panel rather than in his role as a Trump campaign surrogate, the Post reported.
"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," Flores told the Post.
Speaking to Al Jazeera from Washington, former associate US attorney general Bruce Fein told Al Jazeera: "Everyone knows Jeff Sessions was up to his ears in the Trump campaign, that’s why he’s attorney-general now."
But he noted Trump has made powerful enemies early on in his presidency.
"Mr Trump has so alienated the press that they’re out to get him. And there are many people in the intelligence community that are probably out to get Mr Trump too because he’s derided them, [accused] them of doing things equivalent to the Nazis. So he’s going to have an intelligence community that’s looking for things," Fein added.
Democratic Representative Adam Schiff said t he US House of Representatives intelligence committee will investigate allegations of collusion between Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia.
"We have reached a written agreement, the minority and the majority in the House intelligence committee, that we will investigate allegations of Russian collusion with the Trump campaign," Schiff, the top Democrat on the panel, said on MSNBC.
The committee said in a statement that its Republican chairman, Devin Nunes, and Schiff had agreed that their investigation will seek answers to questions including: "Did the Russian active measures include links between Russia and individuals associated with political campaigns or any other US Persons?"