The two meetings in question between Jeff Sessions and Kislyak occurred in the presence of U.S. officials: one was a handshake and brief exchange after a speech given in July during the Republican National Convention; the other was a meeting in Sessions’s office with two U.S. senior staff members present.
An investigation into Ambassador Kislyak’s meetings on Capitol Hill yielded a finding that is raising questions: the Russian official met 22 times with the Obama administration.
The visitor logs, which Obama made public in 2009 in a push for transparency, show that the long-time Russian ambassador to the United States visited the White House at least 22 times between 2009 and 2016.
Kislyak appeared in the logs as recently as September 2016 when he had a meeting scheduled with one of Obama’s senior advisers, John Holdren, in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. The other visitors listed at the meeting are Marina W. Gross, Alexander Ermolaev, Alexey Lopatin, Vyacheslav Balakirev and Sergey Sarazhinskiy. Though the appointment was scheduled to begin at 12:00 pm, it does not include an end time.
As Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) pointed out on CNN, it is considered normal business for U.S. officials to meet with ambassadors, including the president and sitting senators.
“Yes, that happens,” Manchin said. “We meet with all the ambassadors or try to anyway to build relationships. It’s not unusual.”
While accusations fly about Sessions’s testimony to Sen. Franken (D-MN), it is important to note the context of the exchange: Russian intelligence contacting Trump surrogates about the campaign. The full transcript also shows that Sessions said he would not be able to “comment at that time” in response to the question, which Franken said was “totally fair.”
Attorney General Sessions would not be alone as a high-ranking public official to have questions raised about his affairs with the Russian government.
President Obama once famously told former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev he’d have more “flexibility” following his “last election.”
He also dismissed former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s concerns about Russia being America’s main adversary during a presidential debate. “The 1980s are calling and asking for their foreign policy back,” Obama remarked.
Hillary Clinton, for her part, presided over the failed Russian “reset,” which was an attempt at détente with Putin’s Russia under her State Department leadership. Her presidential campaign manager, John Podesta, has a number of questionable ties and financial transactions with Russians.
If Democrats are going to preside over what President Trump characterized as a “witch hunt,” seeking out Russian ties in every Republican official’s closet, it is best that the party also takes a hard look at their own.