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McCain presses Sessions on why he didn’t take a harder line with Russia

McCain wasn’t sleepy for this one.

Though most of the fireworks took place earlier in the hearing, some of the most important questions Attorney General Jeff Sessions faced during his Senate Intelligence Committee testimony Tuesday actually came at the very end, from Republican Sen. John McCain.

The Arizona lawmaker asked Sessions a series of hard-hitting questions about what issues Sessions brought up in his conversations with Russian officials. Specifically, McCain wanted to know if Sessions had challenged Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak about Russia’s interference in the US election, its invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea, and its support for the murderous Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria.

Sessions said that while he did raise the issue of Ukraine with Kislyak, he did not “recall” if he brought up any of those other issues during their meetings.

This is incredibly revealing — the fact that Sessions, who was a sitting US senator on the Senate Armed Services Committee at the time, met several times with the Russian ambassador yet apparently didn’t choose to discuss some of the most critical foreign policy issues between the two countries is astounding.

And it’s yet another instance of Team Trump being far friendlier with Moscow than past US administrations have been.

Below is a video and transcript of the exchange:

MCCAIN: As chairman of that committee, let me ask you a few questions about that. At these meetings, did you raise concerns about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine or annexation of Crimea?

SESSIONS: I did, Sen. McCain, and I would like to follow up a little bit on that. That's one of the meetings — that's one of the issues that I recall explicitly. The day before my meeting with the Russian ambassador, I met with the Ukrainian ambassador, and I heard his concerns about Russia, and so I raised those with Mr. Kislyak, and he gave, as you can imagine, not one inch. Everything they did, the Russians had done, according to him was correct, and I remember pushing back on it, and it was a bit testy on that subject.

MCCAIN: Knowing you on the committee, I can't imagine that. Did you raise concerns about Russia's support for [Syrian] President Bashar Al-Assad and his campaign of indiscriminate violence against his own citizens including his use of chemical weapons?

SESSIONS: I don't recall whether that was discussed or not.

MCCAIN: Did you raise discussions about Russia's interference in our electoral process or interferences of the electoral processes of our allies?

SESSIONS: I don't recall that being discussed.

MCCAIN: At those meetings, if you spoke with Ambassador Kislyak in your capacity as a member of the Armed Services Committee, you presumably talked to him about Russia-related security issues that you have demonstrated as important to you as a member of the committee?

SESSIONS: Did I discuss security issues —

MCCAIN: I don't recall you being particularly vocal on such issues.

SESSIONS: Repeat that, Sen. McCain, I'm sorry.

MCCAIN: The whole Russia-related security issues that you demonstrated is important to you as a member of the committee. Did you raise those with him?

SESSIONS: You mean such issues as nuclear issues?

MCCAIN: Yeah. In other words, Russia-related security issues, in your capacity as the chairman of the strategic forces subcommittee, what Russia-related security issues did you hold hearings on or otherwise demonstrate a keen interest in?

SESSIONS: We may have discussed that. I just don't have a real recall of the meetings. I was not making a report about it to anyone. I just was basically willing to meet and see what he discussed.

MCCAIN: And his response was?

SESSIONS: I don't recall.

MCCAIN: During that 2016 campaign season, did you have any contacts with any representative, including any American lobbyist or agent of any Russian company within or outside your capacity as a member of Congress or a member of the Armed Services Committee?

SESSIONS: I don't believe so.