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Sessions didn't disclose Russia contacts on security clearance form

By Danielle Haynes
Sessions didn't disclose Russia contacts on security clearance form
Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks on sanctuary cities and illegal immigration at the White House in Washington, D.C., on March 27. Justice officials said Sessions didn't list his meetings with the Russian ambassador on his security clearance form, but a spokesman said an FBI official told him he didn't have to include meetings that took place in his capacity as senator. File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

May 25 (UPI) -- Attorney General Jeff Sessions didn't reveal meetings he had with Russian officials last year on forms he filled out to get security clearance, the Justice Department said.

Justice Department officials first told CNN about the incomplete information on Sessions' SF-86 form on Wednesday. The form requires a complete list of all contacts with foreign governments and their representatives from the previous seven years.

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But Justice Department Deputy Director of Affairs Ian Prior said Sessions was following instructions given to him by the FBI when he left off a number of meetings he attended as part of his job as senator.

"As a United States senator, the attorney general met hundreds -- if not thousands -- of foreign dignitaries and their staff," said Prior in a the statement. "In filling out the SF-86 form, the attorney general's staff consulted with those familiar with the process, as well as the FBI investigator handling the background check, and was instructed not to list meetings with foreign dignitaries and their staff connected with his Senate activities."

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One legal expert who advises officials seeking security clearance told CNN he disagreed with the Justice Department's explanation. He said he previously advised a member of Congress to list all prior foreign meetings, even those held in their capacity as a member of Congress.

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"My interpretation is that a member of Congress would still have to reveal the appropriate foreign government contacts notwithstanding it was on official business," Mark Zaid said.

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This is the second time Sessions has declined to mention his contacts with Russians. In March, he faced scrutiny for not disclosing at his confirmation hearing two meetings he had with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. The meetings happened in July and September while Sessions was a senior member of the Armed Services Committee and one of President Donald Trump's foreign policy advisers during the presidential campaign.

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Both chambers of Congress and the FBI are investigating whether Russia interfered in the U.S. presidential election and whether the country colluded with the Trump campaign in order to do so. Sessions ultimately recused himself from involvement in the investigations after his Russia contacts were revealed.

Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, told CNN that Sessions should have known better and should have included all foreign contacts on the SF-86 form. Hurd said Sessions was better off "oversharing."

Because of the "intense scrutiny he knew he was going to go under, oversharing is probably better than undersharing," the member of the House Oversight Committee said.

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Hurd said newly appointed special counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the Justice Department's Russia probe, will likely want to talk to Sessions about the lack of disclosure.

"When former FBI Director Mueller comes knocking, there will be a conversation," he said.

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The report prompted some Democrats to call for Sessions' resignation. Withholding information on a background check form is a federal crime, The New York Times reported.

"He's lied under oath. He's misled on security clearance forms. It's simple -- he should not be the attorney general," Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., said on Twitter.

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