Attorney General Jeff Sessions used funds from his Senate reelection campaign to cover travel expenses at last year’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland, where he met with Sergei Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal. This directly contradicts recent White House statement that Sessions was not acting on behalf of the campaign at the time.
“He was literally conducting himself as a United States senator,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer had said on Thursday. Spicer further claimed Sessions didn’t discuss matters related to Mr. Trump’s campaign.
But according to the WSJ, Sessions used campaign funds for his travel, rather than official Senate Armed Services Committee funds: Sessions' campaign account made two payments of $1,395 to the Sheraton Cleveland Airport on July 16. The campaign also paid $223 to the Westin Hotel in Cleveland. Both were deemed "lodging expenses." None of the payments reimbursing Sessions for his travel expenses reappear in President Trump's 2016 presidential campaign account.
Sessions defended his meeting with Kilslyak as a standard one for a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. But Larry Nobel, the general counsel at the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center, said Sessions would have had a harder time justifying the use of Senate Armed Services Committee funds while a senior advisor to the Trump campaign. "If he was truly there solely as a member of the Armed Services Committee, then he could've used his legislative account," he said.
Sessions spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores told reporters she couldn't comment on his convention expenses, adding that aides with Sessions at the Cleveland event don't recall him discussing the election with the Russian envoy, though they could not be certain due to the "noise level" at the event. Earlier this week, Flores insisted Sessions did not mislead the Senate when he failed to disclose his meetings with Kislyak during his January 10 confirmation hearing. “There was absolutely nothing misleading about his answer,” she said. She emphasized that Sessions last year had more than 25 conversations with foreign ambassadors as a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, including the British, Korean, Japanese, Polish, Indian, Chinese, Canadian, Australian and German ambassadors, in addition to Kislyak.
Here's the video of Sessions denying **under oath** that he had communications with the Russians. https://t.co/YFxCgqjQo6— CAP Action (@CAP Action)1488421956.0
But The Washington Post contacted all 26 members of the 2016 Senate Armed Services Committee to see whether any senators besides Sessions also met with Kislyak last year. Of the 20 who responded, every lawmaker, including Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Arizona) said they did not meet with the Russian ambassador.
These findings come after the White House indicated the administration stands squarely behind Sessions. President Trump stated he had “full” confidence in Sessions and sees no need for him to recuse himself. The president voiced his support in response to a question before speaking at an event aboard a Navy aircraft carrier in Virginia. The White House has stated, however, that it was unaware of the contacts that Sessions had with the Russian ambassador while serving as top advisor to the Trump campaign.
Sessions on Thursday recused himself from investigations into Russian meddling during the 2016 presidential race, amid mounting bipartisan pressure from Congress over his contacts with Kislyak.
Following the impromptu press conference, Nancy Pelosi (D-California), the top Democrat in the House, strengthened her calls for Sessions' resignation: "Attorney General Sessions’ narrow recusal and his sorry attempt to explain away his perjury are totally inadequate," she said. "He is clearly trying to maintain his ability to control the larger investigation into the sprawling personal, political and financial grip Russia has on the Trump Administration. Attorney General Sessions’ lies to the Senate and to the American people make him unfit to serve as the chief law enforcement officer of our country. He must resign immediately.”
This is the second time in as many months that Kislyak has found himself at the center of a White House scandal: Trump’s national security advisor, Michael Flynn, was fired last month after he discussed the ongoing sanctions against Russia with Kislyak.