A Russian diplomat who worked in the Washington embassy left the country last August while federal investigators examined whether he played a key covert role in the alleged Kremlin-directed plot to influence last fall’s U.S. elections.
Two people with knowledge of a multi-agency investigation into the Kremlin’s meddling have told McClatchy that Mikhail Kalugin was under scrutiny when he departed. He has been an important figure in the inquiry into how Russia bankrolled the email hacking of top Democrats and took other measures to defeat Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump capture the White House, said the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the investigation.
Kalugin’s name – albeit misspelled ‑ first surfaced publicly in January in a former British spy’s jarring but largely uncorroborated dossier of intelligence collected for Trump’s U.S. political opponents. The 35 pages of opposition research quoted Russian sources claiming that Trump campaign associates had colluded with the Kremlin, including in the public release of Democrats’ emails that proved embarrassing to Clinton at a time when polls found her leading Trump.
Kalugin was “withdrawn from Washington at short notice because Moscow feared his heavy involvement in the US presidential election operation . . . would be exposed in the media,” the former British MI6 officer Christopher Steele reported. “ . . . His replacement, Andrei Bondarev however was clean.”
Now back in Moscow, an indignant Kalugin recently denied the allegations in an email to McClatchy, saying he wanted “to stop once and for all the continuous stream of lies and fake news about my person.”