Russia's Foreign Ministry has angrily rejected allegations that its top diplomat in Washington is a spy amid controversy over meetings he held with US Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
CNN reported Wednesday that Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak is considered by US intelligence to be one of Russia's top spies and spy-recruiters in Washington, citing current and former senior US government officials.
But asked by CNN's team in Moscow about the report, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova insisted Kislyak was "a well-known, world-class diplomat."
She added, "He was deputy minister of foreign affairs in Russia, who has communicated with American colleagues for decades in different fields, and CNN accused him of being a Russian spy ... of recruiting? Oh my God!"
Sessions is facing calls from senior Democrats to resign for failing to disclose in his confirmation hearings two meetings he held with Kislyak last year. He has denied misleading Congress.
Speaking at a press briefing Thursday, Zakharova dismissed media reports about the encounters between Sessions and Kislyak as "shameful," an "attempt at total misinformation" and a kind of "vandalism."
Zakharova also defended the role of Russian diplomats, saying: "Everyone knows how diplomats work and their work consists of making contacts."
'Blown out of proportion'
Asked to respond to the characterization of Kislyak as a spy, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, "Nobody has heard a single statement from US intelligence agencies' representatives regarding our ambassador. Again, these are some depersonalized assumptions of the media that are constantly trying to blow this situation out of proportion."
Peskov also insisted that Russia has never interfered in the domestic affairs of another country and has no plans ever to do so.
He said the current "overly emotional environment" was affecting the prospects of a future meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"This emotional atmosphere builds up a certain resistance to the idea of developing a relationship with Russia. That's true. The negative effect is obvious here," Peskov told journalists on a conference call.
Kislyak's interactions with Trump's former national security adviser Michael Flynn led to Flynn's firing last month.
Sessions denies misleading Conrgess
Sessions met with Kislyak twice last year, in July on the sidelines of the Republican convention, and in September in his office when Sessions was a member of the Senate Armed Services committee, according to the Justice Department. Sessions, then a Republican senator for Alabama, campaigned on behalf of Trump throughout 2016.
Sessions did not mention either meeting during his confirmation hearings when he said he knew of no contacts between Trump surrogates and Russians.
In response to reports of his meetings with Kislyak, Sessions' spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said there was nothing "misleading about his answer" to Congress because he "was asked during the hearing about communications between Russia and the Trump campaign -- not about meetings he took as a senator and a member of the Armed Services Committee."
Sessions also strongly denied ever discussing campaign-related issues with anyone from Russia. "I never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign," he said in a statement. "I have no idea what this allegation is about. It is false."
The House Intelligence Committee signed off this week on a plan to investigate Russia's alleged interference in the US elections, which includes examining contacts between Trump's campaign and Russia, and looking into who leaked the details. Democrats have called for an independent investigation.
Russia has consistently denied allegations that it meddled in the US election campaign.