In the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Tuesday, Senator John McCain asked a very pointed question of Jeff Sessions: whether he ever had "any contacts with any representative, including any American lobbyist or agent of any Russian company" during the 2016 campaign. Sessions replied: "I don't believe so."
Two days later, The Guardian reporter Stephanie
Kirchgaessner wrote that: "An American lobbyist
for Russian interests. who helped craft an important foreign policy speech for
Donald Trump, has confirmed that he attended two dinners hosted by Jeff Sessions
during the 2016 campaign, apparently contradicting the attorney general’s sworn
testimony given this week."
Richard Burt, who was ambassador to Germany in the Reagan administration, has more recently worked as a lobbyist in Washington representing Russian interests.
He volunteered the above about his personal contacts with Sessions. "I did attend two dinners with groups of former Republican foreign policy officials and Senator Sessions,” he told the reporter. He also said that he did not know whether Sessions knew about his work for the Russians, although it was disclosed in public records and was widely known in Washington circles.
As The Guardian reports: Burt "is managing director of the Europe and Eurasia practice" at his lobbying firm and "served as a lobbyist for the New European Pipeline AG" which is owned by the Russian state-owned oil company Gazprom. The pipeline he was lobbying for, which the Obama administration opposed, "is seen as making Europe more dependent on Russian energy exports."
Further, Burt not only attended the dinner but later worked on drafting Trump's first foreign policy speech, which Sessions also was intimately involved in producing. The speech was delivered at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, the one that senators kept questioning Sessions about whether he had met with Ambassador Kislyak there.
The Guardian further reported that, more recently, Burt has played down the significance of his contribution to the Trump speech, telling the Daily Beast that he "had transmitted his counsel through a third party intermediary." However, in May 2016, he told NPR that he had been "asked to provide a draft for that speech, and parts of that draft survived in the final [version]."
Whether this is what Burt wrote, I don't know, but in the speech Trump said that an “easing of tensions and improved relations with Russia – from a position of strength – is possible” and that “common sense says this cycle of hostility must end”.
So what we have here is another example of Sessions seeming to obfuscate and avoid his connections with Russian interests. John McCain is obviously looking at this; his question was too specific to think otherwise. I just wish he had pushed him more and not let him get away with "I don't believe so."
At the least, Sessions is probably in for a lot more scrutiny by the Intelligence Committee. The Judiciary Committee -- as the oversight committee for the Justice Department -- should look into Sessions' involvement. And I think we can be sure that Robert Mueller will also.