Did Sessions Falsely Deny Meetings With Lobbyist For Russia?

06/14/2017 11:53 am ET Updated Jun 14, 2017
“Jeff Sessions, President-elect Donald Trump's choice for Attorney General, being sworn in at his confirmation hearing.”10 Ja
Office of the President-elect CC 4.0 International
“Jeff Sessions, President-elect Donald Trump's choice for Attorney General, being sworn in at his confirmation hearing.”10 January 2017

Attorney General Jeff Sessions may have misspoken when questioned by Republican Senator John McCain yesterday during the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, as part of its ongoing investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians in interfering with the 2016 presidential election.

Sessions was grilled by McCain on whether he had contact with any American lobbyists working for any Russian companies, and Sessions denied that he had. Here is the transcript of this brief exchange:

McCain: “During the 2016 campaign season did you have any contacts with any representative including any American lobbyists or agent of any Russian company within or outside your capacity as a member of Congress or member of the armed services committee?”

Sessions: “I don’t believe so.”

However, according to an October 7, 2016 report by Politico, Sessions met at least twice with Richard Burt during the summer of 2016. Burt, a former Reagan administration official, was a lobbyist for Gazprom, a Russian government-owned natural gas company tied to the Kremlin. According to Politico, in the first two quarters of 2016 (January 1 through June 30, 2016), Burt was paid $365,000 to lobby for a new Russian pipeline to span from Russia across the Baltic Sea to Germany, which could potentially make Europe more dependent on Russian gas. The lobbying work was registered under Burt’s firm, McLarty Inbound LLC, which is documented by a congressional Lobbying Registration dated February 24, 2016. An amended report was also filed on January 14, 2017 for the third quarter of 2016 (July 1-September 30), which showed earnings of $140,000. According to Daily Beast source Sergi Kostiayev, a Russian political scientist researching international lobbyists, “Gazprom’s New European Pipeline AG paid Burt’s company $690,000 for their 2016-2017 contract, that just ran out this month [March 2017].”

According to Politico’s sources, including Burt himself, Burt was invited by Sessions to two dinners to discuss foreign policy and national security issues in the summer of 2016, and he also wrote two white papers for Session on these subjects. Reuters has also reported that Trump’s first foreign policy speech (April 27, 2016), which stressed “easing of tensions” between Russia and the U.S., and “upgrading NATO’s outdated mission and structure,” received input from Burt. Based on the aforementioned lobbying reports, Burt’s meetings with Sessions as well as his help with Trump’s speech appear to have occurred at the time he was on the Russian payroll.

Therefore, based on Politico’s sources, including Burt himself, as reported by Politico, and congressional lobbying reports managed by the U.S. Senate Office of Public Records, it appears that Sessions’ denial, made under oath, of his having met with “any American lobbyists or agent of any Russian company within or outside his capacity as a member of Congress or member of the Armed Services Committee” was false.

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