Sen. Claire McCaskill criticizes Sessions for denying Russia meetings but fails to mention her own

McCaskill had a 2013 meeting and a 2015 phone call with the ambassador.

ByABC News
March 2, 2017, 8:09 PM

— -- Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo) criticized Attorney General Jeff Sessions today for failing to disclose meetings he held with the Russian ambassador to the United States, but omitted the fact that she had met with the same official twice in recent years, despite insisting otherwise in a statement.

“I’ve been on the Senate Armed Services Committee for 10 years, and in that time, have had no call from, or meeting with, the Russian ambassador. Ever. That’s because ambassadors call members of Foreign Relations Committee,” McCaskill said in a statement on Thursday morning.

But McCaskill’s recollection of her meetings with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, who has served in that role since 2008, was incorrect, a fact which Twitter users quickly revealed by resurfacing past tweets about a 2013 meeting and a 2015 phone call.

Sessions came under fire on Wednesday night after it was revealed that he had two meetings with the Russian ambassador in 2016, while he was a surrogate for Donald Trump's presidential campaign, and then failed to disclose the contacts during his Senate confirmation hearing.

A Department of Justice spokesman said in a statement on Wednesday that Sessions didn't mention the meetings with Kislyak because those encounters were in his capacity as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, not as a surrogate for the campaign of Donald Trump.

“He was asked during the hearing about communications between Russia and the Trump campaign -- not about meetings he took as a senator and a member of the Armed Services Committee,” DOJ spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said in the statement.

At a press conference this afternoon, Sessions said that his response to questions during the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing about his communications with Russian officials "was honest and correct as I understood it at the time."

Sessions also announced he would recuse himself from any existing or future probes related to presidential campaigns, sidelining himself from investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.

McCaskill defended her statement by saying her encounters with the ambassador weren't one-on-one, in-person meetings. The Washington Post reported that one of Sessions' meetings with Kislyak was private, taking place in Sessions' Senate office.

A Department of Justice spokeswoman said the other encounter between Sessions and Kislyak took place after a speech at an event held by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, in which Kislyak had been among "a small group of ambassadors."

McCaskill also tried to distinguish between her failure to mention her own Russia meetings with that of Sessions by saying her conversations had not occurred while she was acting as a top campaign surrogate for a presidential nominee, which Sessions was.

“I've been on the Armed Services Committee for ten years. The Russian ambassador has never called me; the Russian ambassador has never asked for a meeting with me, and the Russian ambassador has never had a meeting with me," she told reporters later Thursday. “Much less, during the middle of a political campaign, much less a few months prior to my sworn under oath testimony before the Judiciary Committee.”

While the McCaskill flap was largely overshadowed by Sessions' press conference, Republicans were quick to capitalize on her flub.

“Looks like McCaskill is having trouble with the truth today,” Katie Martin, communications director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, wrote in an email to reporters.

A spokesman for the Senate Armed Services Committee did not respond to requests for comment about how frequently most members of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee meet with foreign ambassadors.