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Sessions Defends His Testimony About Russian Contacts

Attorney General Jeff Sessions before making a statement Monday on issues related to visas and travel at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection office in Washington.
Susan Walsh
Attorney General Jeff Sessions before making a statement Monday on issues related to visas and travel at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection office in Washington.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in a letter to Congress, said his remarks about not having contact with Russian officials during last year's presidential campaign were "correct," even though he's had to acknowledge that he twice met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

As NPR's Carrie Johnson told All Things Considered on Monday, Sessions is under fire for his misleading testimony under oath about those contacts. In a letter Sessions describes as a "supplement" to his testimony, he told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he did nothing wrong.

"Sessions said his answers were technically correct because the questions did not ask about them. He said he didn't recall other contacts with other people from Russia," said Johnson. "It's a short letter, just three pages and it doesn't give much ground."

Here's the play-by-play: In Sessions' January 10, 2017 testimony, Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn, asked the former senator "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?"

In his letter, Sessions wrote:

"I responded: '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 didn't have — did not have communications with the Russians, and I'm unable to comment on it.'

My answer was correct. As I noted in my public statement on March 2, 2017, I was surprised by the allegations in the question, which I had not heard before. I answered the question, which asked about a "continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump's surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government," honestly. I did not mention communications I had had with the Russian Ambassador over the years because the question did not ask about them."

The Washington Post reported last week that, in fact, Sessions had met Kislyak on two occasions: a brief encounter at the Republican National Convention in July 2016 and again in his Senate office in September 2016.

Following that report, Sessions recused himself from any Justice Department investigation of Russian contacts with Trump campaign and administration.

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Richard Gonzales is NPR's National Desk Correspondent based in San Francisco. Along with covering the daily news of region, Gonzales' reporting has included medical marijuana, gay marriage, drive-by shootings, Jerry Brown, Willie Brown, the U.S. Ninth Circuit, the California State Supreme Court and any other legal, political, or social development occurring in Northern California relevant to the rest of the country.

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