Saturday 4 March 2017

Jeff Sessions To Answer Russia Questions In Writing

Jeff Sessions

The US attorney general, Jeff Sessions, will reply in writing to Senate Democrats’ questions about his meetings with Russia’s ambassador last year, the justice department said on Friday, after a top Republican turned down Democrats’ request for a public hearing.

Nine Democratic senators wrote asking the Senate judiciary committee chairman, Chuck Grassley, to call Sessions before his panel to explain his failure until this week to disclose his contacts with the Russian ambassador during the 2016 presidential campaign.

The letter came a day after Sessions removed himself from any investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the election.

Grassley replied that he had no plans for a hearing.

Instead, Sessions would submit written answers on Monday to questions in the letter, such as why he did not come forward sooner to detail his communications with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian envoy, justice department spokesman Peter Carr said.

On Thursday, Sessions said he met Kislyak in his Senate office two months before the election as well as at an event with other ambassadors at the Republican national convention.

During the Senate confirmation process to become attorney general, Sessions denied contact with Russian officials during the campaign. Sessions told reporters he had done nothing wrong by failing to disclose the contact with Kislyak.

Democrats are pushing for a broad probe of ties between Trump campaign associates and Russian operatives and have called for Sessions to resign. Trump has backed his attorney general and accused Democrats of blowing the issue out of proportion for political purposes.

Two US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity on Thursday, said Sessions was one of many subjects of a government investigation of any contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia.

The reported contacts raise questions about the White House’s statements that it knew of no further communications with Russian officials beyond those by ex-national security adviser Michael Flynn, who was fired last month.

The Russia controversy has dogged the early days of the Trump administration and threatens to obscure its push to cut taxes, repeal the Obamacare healthcare law and deal with other top domestic priorities.

Democratic senators including Dianne Feinstein and Richard Blumenthal said in their letter that Sessions’s decision to step back from campaign-related investigations was welcome. But they said his previous answers to questions about Russia were “incomplete and misleading”.

“Given the seriousness of this matter, we do not believe that a written submission to correct the record is sufficient,” they said in the letter.

American intelligence agencies concluded last year that Russia hacked and leaked Democratic emails during the election campaign as part of an effort to tilt the vote in Trump’s favour. The Kremlin has denied the allegations.

During his presidential campaign Trump frequently called for improved relations with Russia, which have been deeply strained in recent years over Moscow’s military interference in Ukraine, its support for President Bashar al-Assad in Syria and Putin’s intolerance of political dissent.



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