Explainer: Why Jeff Sessions' Russian meetings matter

Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee have asked the FBI to investigate Attorney General Jeff Sessions

Explainer: Why Jeff Sessions' Russian meetings matter

Jeff Sessions. Picture by Carolyn Kaster AP/Press Association Images

Who is Jeff Sessions?

Jeff Sessions was appointed by Donald Trump to be America's attorney general, the top official at the Department of Justice, which is responsible for enforcing federal law.

He was the first senator to endorse Donald Trump during his campaign, and remained a close adviser.

What has he allegedly done?

During his January 2017 confirmation hearing to become attorney general, Sessions said that he had not had communications with any Russians during Trump's campaign.

It has since emerged that he met the Russian ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak, twice in 2016.

One was a private meeting in September, the other was in a group setting.

The September meeting happened at the height of a Russian campaign to interfere with the US elections.

Sessions was not only a trusted foreign policy adviser to Trump at the time, but also a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

How is he explaining that then?

Today Sessions clarified that he did not "discuss any political campaign" with Russian officials during Trump's run for the White House.

A spokeswoman for Sessions said that he does not have a "strong recollection" of what the men talked about, but that he took the meeting in his capacity as a senator rather than as a Trump adviser.

She also noted that he had more than 25 conversations with foreign ambassadors last year.

But Sessions is now being accused of lying to Congress under oath.

What's the big deal?

America's intelligence services have already concluded that Russia attempted to meddle in the presidential elections by hacking individuals and organisations.

Trump's national security adviser Michael Flynn was also forced to resign after it was revealed he discussed US sanctions on Russia with Mr Kislyak before Trump became president, and failed to disclose it to vice president Mike Pence.

There is now an ongoing federal investigation in to the full extent of Russia's connection to the election.

As attorney general, Sessions is in charge of that investigation, which includes looking at any contact between Russia and anyone working for or affiliated with the Trump campaign, transition or administration teams.

So what happens now?

The future looks precarious for the new attorney general.

Senior Democrats have called for his resignation.

House minority leader Nancy Pelosi said "After lying under oath to Congress about his own communications with the Russians, the attorney general must resign.

"There must be an independent, bipartisan, outside commission to investigate the Trump political, personal and financial connections to the Russians."

More damagingly, senior Republicans have called for Sessions to recuse himself from the federal investigation.
Sessions has already promised to do so "if appropriate".

Some have suggested that Sessions should be criminally investigated for perjury, defined as making an intentional false statement under oath.

Additional reporting from IRN