WASHINGTON (AFP) — The United States extracted a high-level mole in the Russian government who confirmed Vladimir Putin’s direct role in interfering in the 2016 presidential election, due to fear that President Trump may have compromised the person’s safety in personal talks with Russian diplomats, U.S. and European media reported Monday.
The person had been providing information to U.S. intelligence for decades, had access to Putin and had sent pictures of high-level documents on the Russian leader’s desk, CNN said. But the spy was pulled out of Russia, according to CNN, The New York Times and The Washington Post.
The Times reported that the CIA initially offered to extract the source in late 2016 over fears about media exposure, after officials revealed the severity of Russia’s election interference in extensive detail.
The informant initially refused — citing family issues and prompting fears the person had become a double agent, the Times reported.
Months later, the agent relented as media inquiries about a mole continued.
CNN, citing an unnamed person it said was involved in discussions on the asset, said the 2017 extraction was due to concerns that President Donald Trump and his cabinet could expose the agent after repeated mishandling of classified intelligence.
The CIA denied this charge.
The network cited the intelligence community’s particular concern after Trump confiscated a translator’s notes after a 2017 private meeting with Putin.
The CIA’s director of public affairs, Brittany Bramell, told CNN: “Misguided speculation that the president’s handling of our nation’s most sensitive intelligence — which he has access to each and every day — drove an alleged exfiltration operation is inaccurate.”
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham told the network: “CNN’s reporting is not only incorrect, it has the potential to put lives in danger.”
The person was key in providing information that led U.S. intelligence to conclude Putin directly orchestrated Russian interference in favor of Trump and against his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, the Times said.
The informant also directly linked Putin to the hacking of the Democratic National Committee, resulting in the release of a flood of embarrassing messages, according to the Times, which said the agent was the CIA’s most valuable Russian asset.
The extraction “effectively blinded” U.S. intelligence to the Kremlin’s inner workings during the 2018 U.S. midterm elections, the Times reported, as well as the upcoming 2020 presidential election.
On Tuesday, Russian media named the alleged spy, reporting that he had worked at the Russian embassy in Washington before moving to Moscow.
Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the man who was identified had worked in the Kremlin but had been fired and did not have direct contact with the Russian leader.
Peskov said the U.S. reports were “rather in the genre of pulp fiction.”
“I don’t know whether he was an agent or not. I can only confirm that he worked for the presidential administration and he was sacked,” he said.
NBC reported that it found a man living in the Washington area who, according to two FBI sources, matched the descriptions of the man in the CNN report.
When the NBC correspondent approached the home, two men who identified themselves as friends of the Russian suddenly appeared and questioned why he wanted to speak to the occupant.
© Agence France-Presse