As several investigations into Russian interference into last year’s presidential election remain ongoing, Attorney General Jeff Sessions joked about his encounters with the former Russian ambassador to the U.S. Friday, at the same location in which their paths crossed over a year ago.
Sessions was beginning a speech to the Federalist Society 2017 National Lawyers Convention at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., when he deviated from his prepared remarks to ask his audience a question.
“I just was thinking, I should want to ask you: Is Ambassador [Sergey] Kislyak in the room?” he said, to laughter. “Before I get started here. Any Russians? Anybody been to Russia? Got a cousin in Russia or something?”
The quip would seem to stem from the fact that the Mayflower Hotel was the site of a speech by then-presidential candidate Donald Trump in April 2016 that was attended by both Sessions and Kislyak. The event faced scrutiny after Sessions told the Senate Judiciary Committee at his January 2017 confirmation hearing that he was unaware of any communication between Trump campaign officials and Russia. Sessions served as chairman of the campaign’s national security advisory committee.
The White House has said that the attorney general and Kislyak simply happened to attend the same speech and did not meet during the event.
“To state they met or that a meeting took place is disingenuous and absurd,” said a senior White House official in March.
In the ensuing months since Sessions’ confirmation and Trump’s inauguration, inquiries into whether the campaign colluded with the Russians were launched by the FBI — and later taken over by special counsel Robert Mueller — and committees in both chambers of Congress.
Sessions has further revealed that he took meetings with Kislyak on at least two occasions in 2016 as part of his duties as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. His office has said the meetings were unrelated to the presidential campaign.