Feb. 28, 2016. Sessions formally endorses Trump and becomes one of his campaign’s key surrogates.
March 3. Trump names Sessions as chairman of his campaign’s national security advisory committee.
March 17. At an event hosted by the American Council for Capital Formation, Sessions discusses Trump’s foreign policy positions.
“I think an argument can be made there is no reason for the U.S. and Russia to be at this loggerheads. Somehow, someway we ought to be able to break that logjam,” Sessions said. “Strategically it’s not justified for either country. It may not work. Putin may not be able to be dealt with, but I don’t condemn his instincts that we ought to attempt to do that.”
July 18. On the first day of the Republican National Convention, the Heritage Foundation hosted a panel conversation addressing European relations that was attended by a number of ambassadors. “Much of the discussion focused on Russia’s incursions into Ukraine and Georgia,” moderator Victor Ashe later wrote, adding that “[s]everal ambassadors asked for names of people who might impact foreign policy under Trump.”
This appears to be the event after which Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak approached Sessions as part of a small group of foreign dignitaries. Sessions, The Post reports, “then spoke individually to some of the ambassadors, including Kislyak.”
July 31. In an appearance on CNN, Sessions defends Trump’s position on reaching out to Russia.
“This whole problem with Russia is really disastrous for America, for Russia and for the world,” he said. “Donald Trump is right. We need to figure out a way to end this cycle of hostility that’s putting this country at risk, costing us billions of dollars in defense, and creating hostilities.
Sept. 8. Sessions and Kislyak meet in his Senate office. The subject of the meeting isn’t clear, but one official told NBC’s Hallie Jackson that during such meetings ambassadors would “often make superficial comments about election-related news.”
On Mar. 2, 2017, Session explained that the meeting was attended by himself and two or three other staffers. They “listened to the ambassador and what his concerns might be.” The topics discussed included travel to Russia, terrorism and Ukraine. “I don’t recall any specific political discussions,” Sessions said.
Sept. 13. A spokesperson for Sessions indicated that he and Kislyak spoke by phone on this day, but then retracted that claim.
Nov. 8. Trump is elected president.
Nov. 18. President-elect Trump nominates Sessions to serve as his attorney general.
Jan 10, 2017. A hearing on Sessions’s nomination to serve as attorney general is held by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) asks about a CNN report on Russian ties to the Trump campaign that came out that day.
FRANKEN: CNN just published a story alleging that the intelligence community provided documents to the president-elect last week, that included information that “Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump.” These documents also allegedly say “there was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government.” Again, I’m telling you this as it’s coming out, so, you know.But if it’s true, it’s obviously extremely serious, and if there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign, what will you do?SESSIONS: Senator Franken, 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, and I’m unable to comment on it.FRANKEN: Very well.
Jan. 12. The first questions about national security adviser-designate Michael Flynn’s interactions with Russia’s ambassador are reported by The Washington Post.
Jan. 15. Vice President-elect Mike Pence appears on “Face the Nation” and — erroneously, as it turns out — says that Flynn’s contacts with Kislyak were “strictly coincidental” and that Flynn and the Russian “did not discuss anything having to do with the United States’ decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia.”
Jan. 17. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) sends Sessions a lengthy letter asking about Russia (and a number of other things).
Several of the President-Elect’s nominees or senior advisers have Russian ties. Have you been in contact with anyone connected to any part of the Russian government about the 2016 election, either before or after Election Day?RESPONSE: No.
Jan. 20. Trump is inaugurated as president.
Feb. 8. Sessions is confirmed as attorney general in a 52-47 vote. Franken and Leahy — and every other Democrat save Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) — vote no.
March 1. The Post reveals Sessions’s two interactions with Kislyak.
Sessions’s staff releases a statement from the attorney general: “I never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign. I have no idea what this allegation is about. It is false.”
A statement from Trump’s administration called the questions an “attack” and hinted that Franken was pushing the story for political purposes.
Sarah Isgur Flores, director of public affairs for the Department of Justice, went further in a statement to BuzzFeed.
“There was absolutely nothing misleading about his answer. Last year, the Senator had over 25 conversations with foreign ambassadors as a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, including the British, Korean, Japanese, Polish, Indian, Chinese, Canadian, Australian, German and Russian ambassadors,” she said. “He was asked during the hearing about communications between Russia and the Trump campaign—not about meetings he took as a senator and a member of the Armed Services Committee.”
March 2. Speaking with NBC, Sessions addresses the situation directly.
“I have not met with any Russians at any time to discuss any political campaign and those remarks are unbelievable to me and are false,” he said. “And I don’t have anything else to say about that.”
Asked if he would recuse himself from an investigation into ties between Trump’s campaign and Russia, Sessions was vague.
“I have said whenever it’s appropriate, I will recuse myself. There’s no doubt about that,” he said.
Later that afternoon, Sessions announced that he would recuse himself from “any existing or future investigations of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for President of the United States.”
This article has been corrected: The date of the Judiciary Committee meeting was incorrect.