ASPEN, Colorado – U.S. Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats said Friday that he intends to “try to get some details” about a media report alleging that Attorney General Jeff Sessions discussed campaign-related matters, including policy issues important to Moscow, with Russia’s ambassador to the United States during the 2016 presidential race.
The Washington Post reported Friday that Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak told his superiors in Moscow that he discussed those issues with Sessions during the campaign when he was serving as a top foreign policy advisor to Republican candidate Donald Trump.
Kislyak’s accounts of two conversations with Sessions were intercepted by U.S. spy agencies, which monitor the communications of senior Russian officials both in the United States and in Russia, the Post reported. It also noted that Sessions initially failed to disclose his contacts with Kislyak, that he then denied that the meetings were about the Trump campaign, and that he has testified that he has no recollection of such an encounter last April.
One U.S. official told the Post said that Sessions has provided “misleading” statements that are “contradicted by other evidence.” And it reported that a former official said that “the intelligence indicates that Sessions and Kislyak had ‘substantive’ discussions on matters including Trump’s positions on Russia-related issues and prospects for U.S.-Russia relations in a Trump administration.”
Sessions has repeatedly denied discussing campaign-related issues with Russian officials, and that the meetins with Kislyak were specifically in his capacity as a U.S. senator.
As DNI director, Coats oversees the National Security Agency and other intelligence agencies that would have conducted any intercepts like those the Post reported. Asked about the report during a panel at the Aspen Security Forum here, Coats said, “I just learned about it. Also, I saw the headline. I have come to the point where I no longer put any stock in headlines or breaking news.”
But, Coats continued in a somewhat disjointed response, “I tell my friends and if I was talking to the nation, which I don’t, I would say … actually my wife encouraged me to read this thing and [to] ask a question before you take something as truth. So So I’m going to ask, you know, is this for real? Is this the real thing? Try to get some details before I draw a conclusion. And I try to do that with everything.”
Coats also said there is no dissent within U.S. intelligence agencies about the publicly announced conclusion that Russia meddled in the election through hacking and fake news stories. The comment put him at odds with Trump, who has repeatedly case doubt on the veracity and legitimacy of those findings.