|Sergey Kislyak and Jeff Sessions|
This comes on top of reports that Sessions, during his Senate confirmation hearings as Trump attorney general, failed to disclose two meetings with Kislyak -- and Sessions failed to disclose the meetings on his security-clearance forms.
A former U.S. senator from Alabama and the first major political figure to jump on the Trump train, Sessions already was the focus of Russia-related scrutiny. Last night's report appears to increase the likelihood that Sessions will be at the center of a scandal that threatens to bring down the Trump administration. It also adds to our report last week that Sessions' history of dishonesty and cover ups goes back many years in Alabama. From CNN:
Congressional investigators are examining whether Attorney General Jeff Sessions had an additional private meeting with Russia's ambassador during the presidential campaign, according to Republican and Democratic Hill sources and intelligence officials briefed on the investigation.
Investigators on the Hill are requesting additional information, including schedules from Sessions, a source with knowledge tells CNN. They are focusing on whether such a meeting took place April 27, 2016, at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC, where then-candidate Donald Trump was delivering his first major foreign policy address. Prior to the speech, then-Sen. Sessions and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak attended a small VIP reception with organizers, diplomats and others.
Congressional investigators aren't the only ones on Sessions' trail:
In addition to congressional investigators, the FBI is seeking to determine the extent of interactions the Trump campaign team may have had with Russia's ambassador during the event as part of its broader counterintelligence investigation of Russian interference in the election. The FBI is looking into whether there was an additional private meeting at the Mayflower the same day, sources said. Neither Hill nor FBI investigators have yet concluded whether a private meeting took place -- and acknowledge that it is possible any additional meeting was incidental.
Sessions' recent history of evasive behavior regarding Russia probably does not help his cause -- and likely invites heightened scrutiny:
Asked at a news conference on March 2 whether there were any other meetings with Russians besides those two, Sessions told reporters, "I don't believe so -- you know, we meet a lot of people -- I don't believe so."
Later that week, when Sessions updated his sworn testimony to the Senate judiciary committee, he acknowledged the two meetings with Kislyak but did not mention any encounter at the Mayflower Hotel.
"I do not recall any discussions with the Russian ambassador, or any other representative of the Russian government, regarding the political campaign on these occasions or any other occasion," Sessions wrote.
Why could a meeting at the Mayflower Hotel have special significance? Consider the timing:
Russia was already trying to help Trump before the Mayflower Hotel speech, according to a US intelligence community assessment released in January. The report concluded that by March 2016, Kremlin-backed news outlets began supporting Trump and Russian military intelligence had kicked off its election-related cyber operations.
One day before the speech, Trump won commanding primary victories in five Northeast states, cementing his front-runner status and putting him on a track to secure the bitterly contested Republican nomination.
In the speech, Trump stressed his "America first" message and talked about the fight against terrorism. He offered an olive branch to the Kremlin in line with his comments throughout the campaign -- but out of step with much of the US foreign policy establishment and all of his fellow presidential hopefuls.