Kislyak going back to Russia, embassy says

Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador who has been a central figure in the controversies surrounding the Trump campaign’s alleged ties to Moscow, is leaving Washington, the Russian embassy said Saturday.

“Ambassador S.Kislyak has concluded his assignment in Washington, DC Minister-Counselor D.Gonchar will act as Chargé d’Affaires ad interim,” the embassy wrote on Twitter.

Kislyak has served as Russia’s envoy to the U.S. since 2008, and is a rumored pick for a new position at the United Nations responsible for counterterrorism. 

For most of his tenure in Washington, Kislyak maintained a relatively low profile. But that changed more recently amid revelations that he met with several members of President Trump’s campaign. 

Those meetings have come to light in the wake of the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that the Russian government sought to meddle in the 2016 election and swing the presidential race in Trump’s favor.

Kislyak was first publicly identified as a player in Russia controversy shortly after Trump took office. Reports surfaced that the president’s first national security adviser Michael Flynn had multiple contacts with Kislyak during the presidential transition and misled Vice President Pence and other White House officials about the nature of their conversations.

Facing mounting questions related to his contacts with Kislyak, Flynn was forced to resign in February, just 24 days after taking office.

Weeks after Flynn left the White House, The Washington Post reported that Attorney General Jeff SessionsJeff SessionsKislyak going back to Russia, embassy says Grassley calls on ‘leaker’ to release Sessions-Russia conversation After White House communication team shake up, Trump still tweeting MORE had met twice with Kislyak while he was a high-profile campaign surrogate for Trump. 

Sessions has insisted that he met with Kislyak in his capacity as a then-senator from Alabama, and rejected the notion that he had any improper contacts or conversations with the Russian ambassador. 

The attorney general recused himself from the law enforcement investigation into Russia’s role in the election and possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow, citing his role as a campaign surrogate.

The Washington Post reported this week, however, that intelligence intercepts suggest that Sessions may have discussed campaign matters with Kislyak during their meetings.

Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner has also been swept up in controversies related to Kislyak, after it was reported earlier this year that he also failed to disclose a previous meeting with the ambassador and the CEO of a Russia state-run bank.

Other former Trump campaign members have been linked to Kislyak, as well, including Carter Page, who served as a foreign policy adviser to Trump’s campaign. 

The outgoing Russian ambassador entered headlines once again in May, when reports emerged that Trump may have revealed highly classified intelligence to Kislyak and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during a meeting at the White House.

Trump, his aides and former campaign members have denied any wrongdoing or improper contacts with Russian nationals or government officials, and have called the special counsel investigation into the matter a “witch hunt.”

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