Communications intercepted by U.S. spy agencies contradict assertions by Attorney General Jeff Sessions that he never discussed campaign matters with Russia's ambassador in conversations prior to the November election, The Washington Post reports, citing current and former U.S. officials.
Sessions, who in March recused himself from the Department of Justice investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, has acknowledged conversations with Moscow's ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, during the campaign. However, he has said the two never discussed campaign matters.
He also told a Senate committee last month that any suggestion that he colluded with Russia during last year's campaign was an "appalling and detestable lie."
According to the Post, U.S. intelligence agencies intercepted communications between Kislyak and his superiors.
The newspaper, citing the unnamed U.S. officials, reported that Sessions' assertions are "at odds with Kisylak's accounts of conversations during two encounters over the course of the campaign, one in April ahead of [Donald] Trump's first major foreign policy speech and another in July on the sidelines of the Republican National Convention."
One official told the Post that Sessions' statements were "misleading" and "contradicted by the evidence."
The newspaper writes that while foreign diplomats in Washington occasionally "report false or misleading information to their superiors," Kislyak, whose tenure as ambassador to the U.S. ended recently, "has a reputation for accurately relaying details about his interactions with officials in Washington."
Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores cast doubt on the Post's report and said Sessions stands by his earlier statements to Congress.
"Obviously, I cannot comment on the reliability of what anonymous sources describe in a wholly uncorroborated intelligence intercept that the Washington Post has not seen and that has not been provided to me," Flores said in a statement Friday night, but "the Attorney General stands by his testimony from just last month before the Senate Intelligence Committee when he specifically addressed this and said that he 'never met with or had any conversations with any Russians or any foreign officials concerning any type of interference with any campaign or election.' "
Speaking Friday from the Aspen Security Forum in Aspen, Colo., Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats also sought to cast doubt on the report.
"I have come to the point where I no longer put any stock in headlines or breaking news," Coats said when asked about the report during an event at the forum. He added, "Ask a question first, before you take something as truth — I'm going to ask: Is this for real? Is this the real thing? — before I draw a conclusion on it."
The Post report comes on the heels of a The New York Times interview in which Trump expressed frustration with the attorney general.
The president said that if he had known Sessions would recuse himself from the Russia investigation, he "would have picked someone else" for the attorney general job. Reacting to the interview, Sessions said Thursday that he planned to stay at his job for "as long as that is appropriate."