In the Obama administration’s last days, some White House officials scrambled to spread information about Russian efforts to undermine the presidential election — and about possible contacts between associates of President-elect Donald J. Trump and Russians — across the government. Former American officials say they had two aims: to ensure that such meddling isn’t duplicated in future American or European elections, and to leave a clear trail of intelligence for government investigators.
American allies, including the British and the Dutch, had provided information describing meetings in European cities between Russian officials — and others close to Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin — and associates of President-elect Trump, according to three former American officials who requested anonymity in discussing classified intelligence.Separately, American intelligence agencies had intercepted communications of Russian officials, some of them within the Kremlin, discussing contacts with Trump associates.
The disclosures about the contacts came as new questions were raised about Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions’s ties to the Russians. According to a former senior American official, he met with the Russian ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak, twice in the past year. The details of the meetings were not clear, but the contact appeared to contradict testimony Mr. Sessions provided Congress during his confirmation hearing in January when he said he “did not have communications with the Russians.”
Mr. Sessions said in a statement late Wednesday that he “never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign.”
“I have no idea what this allegation is about,” he said. “It is false.”
On Wednesday, a Justice Department official confirmed that Mr. Sessions had two conversations with Ambassador Kislyak last year, when he was still a senator, despite testifying at his Jan. 10 confirmation hearing that he had no contact with the Russians. At that hearing, Mr. Sessions was asked what he would do if it turned out to be true that anyone affiliated with the Trump team had communicated with the Russian government in the course of the campaign. He said he was “not aware of any of those activities.”
“I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I didn’t have — did not have communications with the Russians, and I’m unable to comment on it,” Mr. Sessions said at the time.
However, Justice officials acknowledged that Mr. Sessions had spoken with Mr. Kislyak twice: once, among a group of ambassadors who approached him at a Heritage Foundation event during the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July and, separately, in an office meeting on Sept. 8. The contacts were first reported by The Washington Post.The revelation prompted congressional Democrats to issue a torrent of statements reiterating their demands that Mr. Sessions recuse himself from overseeing any investigation into Russia’s contacts with the Trump campaign. So far, Mr. Sessions has demurred.
Representative Adam B. Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement on Wednesday that if the reports about Mr. Sessions were accurate, “it is essential that he recuse himself from any role in the investigation of Trump campaign ties to the Russians.” Mr. Schiff added, “This is not even a close call; it is a must.”
Representative Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader of the House, called on Mr. Sessions to resign, saying on Twitter that “he is not fit to serve as the top law enforcement officer of our country.”