- Getty/Mark Wilson
Attorney General Jeff Sessions reportedly did not disclose his meeting with Russian officials last year when he applied for his security clearance, according to a Justice Department official Wednesday.
Sessions did not note on his security clearance forms that he had met with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak at least twice that year, according to a CNN report. The form required Sessions to include any contact he or his family made with a foreign government or its representatives during a span of seven years, the report said.
Although Sessions had included meetings with foreign officials that took place in one year, a Justice Department spokesperson said that an FBI employee who was assisting in the process told Sessions and his staff that he did not need to include the dozens of meetings that were held during his time in the Senate.
After CNN published its report, the Justice Department’s public affairs office released the following statement:
“As a United States Senator, the Attorney General met hundreds-if not thousands-of foreign dignitaries and their staff. In filling out the SF-86 form, the Attorney General’s staff consulted with those familiar with the process, as well as the FBI investigator handling the background check, and was instructed not to list meetings with foreign dignitaries and their staff connected with his Senate activities.”
However, Mark Zaid, an attorney who deals with national security law, poured cold water on the Justice Department’s assertion and indicated that Sessions still needed to annotate his meetings on the form. He previously advised an official in Congress to include all foreign contacts, including those that were made while conducting official US business.
“My interpretation is that a member of Congress would still have to reveal the appropriate foreign government contacts notwithstanding it was on official business,” Zaid said in CNN’s report.
Federal officials are not required to include meetings on the security form if it was for a foreign conference that they attended in their official capacity; however, Sessions’ meetings may not meet that standard for exclusion because the meetings in question do not appear to be related to foreign conferences, CNN reported.
During Sessions’ Senate confirmation hearings in January, Sessions failed to disclose meeting Kislyak, testifying that he “did not have communications” with Russian officials during Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
One day after a Washington Post report revealed that Sessions had two meetings with Kislyak – meetings he did not disclose – Sessions recused himself from the FBI’s Trump-Russia investigation. He later amended his Senate confirmation testimony to include the two meetings with Kislyak.
“Let me be clear,” Sessions said before making his recusal announcement in March, “I never had meetings with Russian operatives or Russian intermediaries about the Trump campaign.”