Jeff Sessions, Attorney General
Steve Bannon pushed him through as Attorney General, the first appointee confirmed on February 8, 2017. Like Bannon and Trump, and according to his mother, he is a contrarian and loves to argue. Sessions recused himself from the investigation, and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Robert Mueller as special counsel. Trump has been openly displeased with Sessions refusing to resign, and Sessions protects Mueller from being fired from the investigation.
Below, a timeline of events related to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s relationship with the Trump campaign and his own conversations with Russian officials. This will be updated as needed.
Aug. 21, 2015. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) makes an unexpected appearance at a Donald Trump campaign rally in Mobile, Ala. While he doesn’t endorse Trump, he dons a “Make America Great Again” cap to loud applause. Sessions is one of the first elected officials to tacitly embrace Trump’s upstart candidacy.
Feb. 28, 2016. Sessions formally endorses Trump and becomes one of his campaign’s key surrogates.
March 3. Trump names Sessions as chairman of his campaign’s national security advisory committee.
March 17. At an event hosted by the American Council for Capital Formation, Sessions discusses Trump’s foreign policy positions.
“I think an argument can be made there is no reason for the U.S. and Russia to be at this loggerheads. Somehow, someway we ought to be able to break that logjam,” Sessions said. “Strategically it’s not justified for either country. It may not work. Putin may not be able to be dealt with, but I don’t condemn his instincts that we ought to attempt to do that.”
July 18. On the first day of the Republican National Convention, the Heritage Foundation hosted a panel conversation addressing European relations that was attended by a number of ambassadors. “Much of the discussion focused on Russia’s incursions into Ukraine and Georgia,” moderator Victor Ashe later wrote, adding that “[s]everal ambassadors asked for names of people who might impact foreign policy under Trump.”
This appears to be the event after which Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak approached Sessions as part of a small group of foreign dignitaries. Sessions, The Post reports, “then spoke individually to some of the ambassadors, including Kislyak.”
July 31. In an appearance on CNN, Sessions defends Trump’s position on reaching out to Russia.
“This whole problem with Russia is really disastrous for America, for Russia and for the world,” he said. “Donald Trump is right. We need to figure out a way to end this cycle of hostility that’s putting this country at risk, costing us billions of dollars in defense, and creating hostilities.
Sept. 8. Sessions and Kislyak meet in his Senate office. The subject of the meeting isn’t clear, but one official told NBC’s Hallie Jackson that during such meetings ambassadors would “often make superficial comments about election-related news.”
On Mar. 2, 2017, Session explained that the meeting was attended by himself and two or three other staffers. They “listened to the ambassador and what his concerns might be.” The topics discussed included travel to Russia, terrorism and Ukraine. “I don’t recall any specific political discussions,” Sessions said.
Sept. 13. A spokesperson for Sessions indicated that he and Kislyak spoke by phone on this day, but then retracted that claim.
Nov. 8. Trump is elected president.
Nov. 18. President-elect Trump nominates Sessions to serve as his attorney general.
Jan 10, 2017. A hearing on Sessions’s nomination to serve as attorney general is held by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) asks about a CNN report on Russian ties to the Trump campaign that came out that day.
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.
FRANKEN: Very well.
Jan. 12. The first questions about national security adviser-designate Michael Flynn’s interactions with Russia’s ambassador are reported by The Washington Post.
Jan. 15. Vice President-elect Mike Pence appears on “Face the Nation” and — erroneously, as it turns out — says that Flynn’s contacts with Kislyak were “strictly coincidental” and that Flynn and the Russian “did not discuss anything having to do with the United States’ decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia.”
Jan. 17. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) sends Sessions a lengthy letterasking about Russia (and a number of other things).
Several of the President-Elect’s nominees or senior advisers have Russian ties. Have you been in contact with anyone connected to any part of the Russian government about the 2016 election, either before or after Election Day?
Jan. 20. Trump is inaugurated as president.
Feb. 8. Sessions is confirmed as attorney general in a 52-47 vote. Franken and Leahy — and every other Democrat save Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) — vote no.
March 1. The Post reveals Sessions’s two interactions with Kislyak.
Sessions’s staff releases a statement from the attorney general: “I never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign. I have no idea what this allegation is about. It is false.”
A statement from Trump’s administration called the questions an “attack” and hinted that Franken was pushing the story for political purposes.
Sarah Isgur Flores, director of public affairs for the Department of Justice, went further in a statement to BuzzFeed.
“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,” she said. “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.”
March 2. Speaking with NBC, Sessions addresses the situation directly.”
Sessions discussed Trump campaign-related matters with Russian ambassador, U.S. intelligence intercepts show July 21, 2017 “A former U.S. official who read the Kislyak reports said that the Russian ambassador reported speaking with Sessions about issues that were central to the campaign, including Trump’s positions on key policy matters of significance to Moscow.
Sessions had a third meeting with Kislyak in his Senate office in September. Officials declined to say whether U.S. intelligence agencies intercepted any Russian communications describing the third encounter.
As a result, the discrepancies center on two earlier Sessions-Kislyak conversations, including one that Sessions has acknowledged took place in July 2016 on the sidelines of the Republican National Convention.
By that point, Russian President Vladimir Putin had decided to embark on a secret campaign to help Trump win the White House by leaking damaging emails about his rival, Democrat Hillary Clinton, according to U.S. intelligence agencies.
Although it remains unclear how involved Kislyak was in the covert Russian campaign to aid Trump, his superiors in Moscow were eager for updates about the candidate’s positions, particularly regarding U.S. sanctions on Russia and long-standing disputes with the Obama administration over conflicts in Ukraine and Syria.
Kislyak also reported having a conversation with Sessions in April at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, where then-candidate Trump delivered his first major foreign policy address, according to the officials familiar with intelligence on Kislyak.
Sessions has said he does not remember any encounter with Kislyak at that event. In his June testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sessions said, “I do not recall any conversations with any Russian official at the Mayflower Hotel.”
Later in that hearing, Sessions said that “it’s conceivable that that occurred. I just don’t remember it.”
Current and former U.S. officials said that assertion is at odds with Kislyak’s accounts of conversations during two encounters over the course of the campaign, one in April ahead of Trump’s first major foreign policy speech and another in July on the sidelines of the Republican National Convention.
The apparent discrepancy could pose new problems for Sessions at a time when his position in the administration appears increasingly tenuous.” Washington Post
One of the meetings was a private conversation between Sessions and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak that took place in September in the senator’s office, at the height of what U.S. intelligence officials say was a Russian cyber campaign to upend the U.S. presidential race.”
July 18, 2016: “On the first day of the Republican National Convention, the Heritage Foundation hosted a panel conversation addressing European relations that was attended by a number of ambassadors. “Much of the discussion focused on Russia’s incursions into Ukraine and Georgia,” moderator Victor Ashe later wrote, adding that “[s]everal ambassadors asked for names of people who might impact foreign policy under Trump.”This appears to be the event after which Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak approached [Jeff] Sessions as part of a small group of foreign dignitaries. Sessions, The Post reports, ‘then spoke individually to some of the ambassadors, including Kislyak.'” Washington Post Sessions’ Timeline Washington Post
Even Republicans assume Trump leaked Kislyak intercepts to force out Jeff Sessions “After The Washington Post was leaked intercepted Kremlin reports on Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the internet immediately began wondering if Donald Trump’s administration was the source of the release.” Raw Story
Sessions offered in recent months to resign as attorney general “Sessions announced his recusal shortly after he became attorney general and a day after The Washington Post revealed that he had twice met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the campaign and did not disclose that fact to the Senate Judiciary Committee during his January confirmation hearing. Trump learned of the attorney general’s decision shortly before Sessions announced it at a news conference. The president’s anger has lingered for months, according to the people close to the White House. They said that Trump cites Sessions’s recusal as a factor that prompted the decision last month by Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein to appoint a special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, to oversee the expanding Russian investigation.” Washington Post June 6 ABC Breaking News
“Democrats spent the hours before the vote on Wednesday seething over the rebuke of Ms. Warren, of Massachusetts, who had been barred from speaking on the floor the previous night. Late Tuesday, Republicans voted to formally silence Ms. Warren after she read from a 1986 letter by Coretta Scott King that criticized Mr. Sessions for using “the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens” while serving as a United States attorney in Alabama. Since Mr. Trump announced his choice for attorney general, Mr. Sessions’s history with issues of race had assumed center stage. A committee hearing on his nomination included searing indictments from black Democratic lawmakers like Representative John Lewis of Georgia, the civil rights icon, and Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, who broke with Senate tradition to testify against a peer.” NY Times Now we know that Cory Booker took campaign contributions from Jared Kushner. MSN
“Jeff Sessions got confirmed as attorney general despite refusing to commit to recuse himself from DOJ inquiries into Trump and other administration officials.” Washington Post
Jeff Sessions Recuses Himself From Russia Inquiry March 2, 2017 NY Times
Did Sessions break recusal vow in helping fire Comey? Associate Press/PBS News Hour “Sessions recommended Comey’s firing, writing in a letter that “a fresh start is needed at the leadership of the FBI.”
Ties to Sergey Kislyak and Russiagate
“Sessions, then a U.S. senator from Alabama, was among Trump’s early supporters in Congress and went on television to promote the candidate. He has come under scrutiny for two meetings with Kislyak last year…Sessions said at a news conference Thursday that he was “taken aback” by a question — which referred to a breaking news story about contacts between Trump campaign surrogates and Russians. “In retrospect, I should have slowed down and said I did meet one Russian official a couple times. That would be the ambassador,” he said….John McLaughlin, a former deputy CIA director and acting CIA director under Obama, said that “it does strain credibility” that Sessions would have simply forgotten about his meetings with Kislyak when he asserted during his confirmation hearing to become attorney general that he had not met with Russian officials…Paul Saunders, a Russia specialist at the Center for the National Interest and a former official in the George W. Bush administration…hosted then-candidate Donald Trump for a foreign policy speech in April last year. Kislyak was in the audience as one of four invited foreign ambassadors as Trump proclaimed, “America-first will be the major and overriding theme of my administration.” Kislyak is known to collect scores of business cards as he moves around Washington, and to follow up, sometimes relentlessly, with requests for one-on-one meetings. Sessions said Thursday that Kislyak had also invited him to lunch, an invitation he never took up…In the case of Sessions, who was considered a top prospect for a Cabinet job when Kislyak visited him in his Senate office in September, Kislyak would have wanted to know: How reasonable is he from a Russia perspective? Hall said [Steven Hall, former head of Russia operations at the CIA].” Washington Post
Daily Kos Petition:”At his Senate confirmation hearing, Attorney General Jeff Sessions lied under oath that he had never had contact with the Russian government as a surrogate for the Trump campaign. We now know that he met with Russian officials at the Republican National Convention, right as they were engaging in cyberattacks to influence the election in favor of Donald Trump. After claiming he would “recuse himself” on all Trump-Russia matters at the Justice Department, Sessions then advised President Trump to fire FBI Director James Comey—right after Comey had issued subpoenas on the Trump-Russia investigation and requested more funding. As the nation’s top law enforcement official, Jeff Sessions has completely violated our trust. He must resign, and his successor appoint a special prosecutor to fully and openly investigate the Trump campaign’s ties with Russian officials.”
From Rolling Stone’s Meet the Leaders of the Trump Resistance by Tim Dickinson : “No cabinet pick has united the Trump resistance like Jeff Sessions, the Alabama senator tapped to head the Justice Department, where he would have broad autonomy to set the national course on the enforcement of civil rights, drug and immigration policy. Sessions was blocked from Senate confirmation once before, when the body refused to seat him as federal judge in the mid-Eighties, following hearings that detailed a distressing history of racism. As a U.S. attorney, Sessions had prosecuted black voting-rights activists – close associates of Martin Luther King Jr. – on trumped-up accusations of voter fraud. (The activists were found not guilty.) And he’s railed against the Voting Rights Act as “intrusive.” According to Senate testimony, Sessions repeatedly referred to a black subordinate as “boy” and opined – during an investigation of a Ku Klux Klan lynching – that he’d thought the KKK was “OK until I found out they smoked pot.” (Sessions denied denigrating his colleague, and insisted the Klan comment was a joke.) Sessions also called civil rights groups, including the NAACP, “un-American organizations teaching anti-American values.” In his U.S. Senate career, Sessions has continued a track record as an extremist. He’s an unreconstructed drug warrior – Sessions insisted last year that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.” An immigration hardliner, Sessions has long ties to the far-right organization FAIR; “he has cavorted with groups that we consider to be hate groups,” says Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Sharry, the immigrant-rights leader, calls the idea of Sessions enforcing civil rights and immigration laws “preposterous.” Todd A. Cox, director of policy at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, says “it is unimaginable that he could be trusted to enforce this nation’s civil rights laws.” Coretta Scott King warned in a 1986 letter that Sessions’ appointment to the judiciary would “irreparably damage the work of my husband.” Sessions faces deep resistance from the drug-reform community, concerned Sessions will break the fragile federal Drug War truce that has enabled state-legal marijuana to boom into a $7 billion industry. Sessions is also opposed by conservatives, who fear he will derail bipartisan progress on issues like criminal justice reform. “Sessions illustrates the need for a new conservative movement,” McMullin says.”
What Jeff Sessions Said About Russia and When Washington Post