Trump and Sessions meet with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, reportedly discussing “matters including Trump’s positions on Russia-related issues and prospects for U.S.-Russia relations in a Trump administration,” a few hours before Trump gives his first major foreign policy address in which he calls for warmer relations with Russia. Kislyak is seated in the front row as Trump delivers his speech.
Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions served several roles under Trump. Sessions was the first sitting senator to officially endorse Trump during the campaign, and subsequently became the head of the candidate’s foreign policy advisory team before being confirmed as Attorney General under Trump in February 2017. Because of his roles with the Trump campaign and multiple meetings with the Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, which he failed to disclose during his confirmation hearings, Sessions recused himself from involvement with the Department of Justice’s investigation into potential collusion with Russia, much to the president’s reported chagrin.
In his role as an adviser to the Trump campaign, Sessions met with Kislyak on at least three separate occasions. Their first conversation, which Trump attended and in which they discussed “matters including Trump’s positions on Russia-related issues and prospects for U.S.-Russia relations in a Trump administration,” occurred on April 27, 2016, shortly before Trump called for warmer relations with Russia in his first major foreign policy speech (with Kislyak sitting in the first row). Sessions also met with Kislyak at least twice more, once with Carter Page and J.D. Gordon at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland on July 20 and again on September 8 in Sessions’ Senate office in Washington, D.C.
During his confirmation hearing, however, Sessions did not disclose his meetings with Kislyak. Asked by Senator Al Franken what he would do if he learned that people associated with the Trump campaign had communicated with the Russian government, Sessions said, “I’m not aware of any of those activities. I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians.” Sessions was ultimately confirmed as Attorney General on February 8, 2017.
After news of the meetings emerged, Sessions continued to dissemble about the conversations. On March 1, 2017, after news emerged of Sessions’ meetings with Kislyak in July and September 2016, Sessions issued a statement in which he falsely stated that he “never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign.” In testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on June 13, Sessions further narrowed that statement, saying he “never met with or had any conversation with any Russians or foreign officials concerning any type of interference with any campaign or election in the United States.”
Because of his involvement with the Trump campaign, Sessions officially recused himself from any involvement with the Justice Department’s Russia investigation on March 2. According to The New York Times, Trump was upset about Sessions’ recusal, and has said that he would not have chosen Sessions to be Attorney General if he had known that Sessions would not be able to lead the investigation.
In March 2018, Sessions fired former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe two days before McCabe had planned to retire (McCabe had stepped down in late January, remaining on the payroll until he would have been eligible for pension benefits.) Sessions stated that the firing “was triggered by internal reviews that concluded McCabe violated Justice Department policies and was not forthcoming with investigators probing FBI actions before the 2016 presidential election.” It was later reported that almost one year before, McCabe had overseen a federal criminal investigation into whether or not Sessions lied to Congress about his contacts with Russian operatives. The investigation did not lead to any criminal charges, and Sessions reportedly did not know about the investigation when he made the decision to fire McCabe.
On November 7, 2018, the day after the 2018 midterm elections, Trump forced Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign. This was widely seen as a move to obstruct the Russia investigation, from which Sessions had previously recused himself. Matthew Whitaker, Sessions’ former chief of staff, was chosen as Sessions’ temporary replacement.