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Sessions, a former Republican senator from Alabama, defended the one-on-one he had with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak because it was part of his duties as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, not as a surrogate for President Donald Trump’s campaign.
In a retort, McCaskill, also a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said she never met with Kislyak, who has held his position since 2008.
"I’ve been on the Armed Services Com for 10 years. No call or meeting w/Russian ambassador. Ever. Ambassadors call members of Foreign (Relations Committee)," she tweeted March 2.
But McCaskill’s own earlier tweets show that that’s not the case. She has communicated with the Russian ambassador, at least twice, to discuss policy matters.
"Off to meeting w/Russian Ambassador. Upset about the arbitrary/cruel decision to end all US adoptions, even those in process," she tweeted on Jan. 30, 2013.
The Atlantic has a picture of that very meeting, showing McCaskill (and a few other senators) sitting across the table from Kislyak.
And in April 2015, she tweeted: "Today calls with British, Russian, and German Ambassadors re: Iran deal. #doingmyhomework."
McCaskill spokeswoman Sarah Feldman said McCaskill’s interactions with Kislyak were materially different than Sessions’. Sessions met with Kislyak one-on-one around the same time Russian actors are believed to have been meddling in the election. McCaskill, on the other hand, met him in a group setting to discuss adoption policy and in a brief phone call about the Iran nuclear deal, Feldman said.
A few hours after tweeting that she never met with the Russian ambassador, McCaskill published two clarifications, downplaying the significance of the two interactions she had with Kislyak.
She also told CNN that Twitter’s 140-character limit prevented her from initially saying she never received a call from the ambassador, as opposed to the call she made to the ambassador about the Iran deal.
Sessions had two interactions with Kislyak in 2016. The first was in an informal group setting at a July 2016 event for diplomats at the Republican National Convention. And the second was a private meeting in Sessions’ former Senate office in September. Who initiated the private meeting and what was discussed is so far unknown.
In specifying that she never met with Kislyak on Armed Services Committee business, "McCaskill seems to have inadvertently supported Sessions’ claims," said Benjamin Friedman, a research fellow in security studies at the libertarian Cato Institute. "She made an unequivocal statement and then had to go back and qualify it by saying she was speaking just about one of her roles and not the other."
McCaskill said, "I’ve been on the Armed Services Com for 10 years. No call or meeting w/ Russian ambassador. Ever."
McCaskill’s own tweets show that she has had an in-person group meeting, as well as a phone call, with the Russian ambassador in the past four years. A McCaskill spokesperson contrasted these interactions with the private one-on-one meeting Sessions had in his office with the ambassador. However, though the context for McCaskill’s and Sessions’ interactions with Kislyak may be very different, she goes too far in saying she didn’t "ever" have that meeting or phone call.
We rate McCaskill’s claim False.
McCaskill Twitter feed, accessed March 2, 2017
Washington Post, "Sen. McCaskill’s misfired tweet on contacts with Russian ambassador," March 2, 2017
The Atlantic, "U.S. Lawmakers Press Russia to Ease Adoption Ban," Feb. 3, 2013
PolitiFact, "In Context: What Jeff Sessions told Al Franken about meeting Russian officials," March 2, 2017
PolitiFact, "Four questions about when senators meet with ambassadors," March 2, 2017
Email interview, McCaskill spokeswoman Sarah Feldman, March 2, 2017
Email interview with Benjamin H. Friedman, research fellow in security studies at the Cato Institute, March 2, 2017
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