Appearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee under oath this week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions was asked whether he had “any contacts with any representative, including any American lobbyist or agent of any Russian company” during the 2016 campaign. Sessions, one of Trump’s earliest supporters, answered: “I don’t believe so.”
On Thursday, an American lobbyist for several major Russian interests, including a state-run energy company and a private equity firm with the state-run Alfa bank, told the Guardian that Sessions in fact hosted him at two dinners during the presidential campaign. The dinners occurred around the time time that the American public learned of Russian efforts to influence the presidential election.
Richard Burt, a former U.S. ambassador to Germany who now lobbies on behalf a pipeline company owned by the Russian energy giant Gazprom, said he attended events with Sessions at least twice last year, and his ties to the Trump campaign were reported as early as last October. Burt made hundreds of thousands of dollars in 2016 alone lobbying Congress to exempt a proposed natural gas pipeline from U.S. sanctions, which would allow more Russian gas to flow to European markets—a key geopolitical goal of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Burt also serves on the board of the Center for the National Interest, a Russia-friendly D.C. think tank that hosted Trump’s foreign policy speech at the Mayflower Hotel last April. Politico reported that Burt helped shape the address Trump delivered at that event, which Sessions attended as the chairman of the Trump campaign’s national security committee.
This is not the first time Sessions has failed, under oath, to recall a meeting with a Russian official or ally.
During his confirmation hearing in January, Sessions said without being directly asked: “I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians.” He also replied with a blanket “no” to the committee’s written question: “Have you been in contact with anyone connected to any part of the Russian government about the 2016 election?”
The Justice Department later admitted this was not true, that he met twice with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
Alice Ollstein is a reporter at Talking Points Memo, covering national politics. She graduated from Oberlin College in 2010 and has been reporting in DC ever since, covering the Supreme Court, Congress and national elections for TV, radio, print, and online outlets. Her work has aired on Free Speech Radio News, All Things Considered, Channel News Asia, and Telesur, and her writing has been published by The Atlantic, La Opinión, and The Hill Rag. She was elected in 2016 as an at-large board member of the DC Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Alice grew up in Santa Monica, California and began working for local newspapers in her early teens.