A former British ambassador to Russia played a key role in American intelligence agencies receiving explosive allegations about Donald Trump and the Kremlin.
The Independent has learned that US Senator John McCain spoke to Sir Andrew Wood, who served in Moscow as the UK’s head of mission for five years, about claims that the US President-elect was susceptible to blackmail over alleged sexual activity and that his team had colluded with Moscow during the presidential election campaign.
The meeting took place at an international security conference in Halifax, Canada, last November, after Mr Trump’s victory. There, Mr McCain sought the advice of Sir Andrew, a highly respected retired diplomat, on a dossier that was put together by Christopher Steele, a former MI6 officer, about Mr Trump and the Moscow connection.
Mr McCain, the chair of the Senate armed forces committee, was so concerned by what he had heard that he personally met James Comey, the director of the FBI, after returning from the Canadian conference, and passed on the information. It formed part of a report about Russian interference in the US presidential election process that was presented to Barack Obama and Mr Trump by the intelligence agencies last week.
Members of the international media have been trying to find out the identity of the British ambassador who had spoken to Senator McCain about the Trump allegations after reports of a meeting began to surface in the US. Sir Andrew told The Independent: “Yes, I did meet Senator McCain and his aides at the conference.
“The issue of Donald Trump and Russia was very much in the news and it was natural to talk about it. We spoke about the kind of activities the Russians can be engaged in. We also spoke about how Mr Trump may find himself in a position where there could be an attempt to blackmail him with Kompromat [the Russian term for compromising material] and claims that there were audio and video tapes in existence.”
Sir Andrew, who became an advisor to Tony Blair after serving as ambassador to Russia from 1995 to 2000 and then Yugoslavia, said: “I would like to stress that I did not pass on any dossier to Senator McCain or anyone else and I did not see a dossier at the time. I do know Christopher Steele and in my view he is very professional and thorough in what he does."
Now an associate fellow at the Chatham House think tank, he added: “Senator McCain and I talked about Russian hacking in the US election as well. I find it difficult to believe that Donald Trump could not have known something about the hacking. He had basically asked people to prove it; he has never said this is something that should be investigated. My view is that these are serious matters and that they should be investigated. I don’t think I have done anything wrong at all in what I have done.”
Sir Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, the head of the British military, and Baroness Pauline Neville Jones, the former head of MI5, were in the list of participants at the Nova Scotia conference. There is no suggestion that any of them had played any part in discussing the Trump claims with Senator McCain.
Mr Steele, who had been based in Moscow and subsequently started a security company in London called Orbis Business Intelligence, was commissioned by political opponents of Mr Trump to investigate growing claims that Vladimir Putin’s government was trying to manipulate the US elections.
He produced a series of reports claiming that the Russian intelligence service had compromising tapes of Mr Trump with prostitutes in a hotel room and that he had been offered – and had declined – lucrative business deals. There were further claims that the Kremlin had been “grooming” the businessman for over five years to be, in effect, the “Moscovian candidate” in the White House.
The US intelligence services acknowledged that they had not verified the claims made by Mr Steele, but they had included them in the report because of the high regard in which he had been held in the security world. American intelligence sources say that information from other sources was also included in the document.
The Government sought to impose a DA (Defence Advisory) Notice to stop the media from disclosing Mr Steele’s name – standard practice for serving and former intelligence officers. However, this was lifted after the name emerged overseas.
The revelations have been followed by some Tory MPs fulminating that the British role in it was a plot to sour relations between the UK and the incoming Trump administration. Some have claimed that this was an anti-Brexit plot. A right-wing tabloid claimed sources have “revealed” that Mr Steele was a “confimed socialist”. Sir Andrew said: “Really? That’s news to me. I think the feeling is that these are matters that need to be looked into.”
British intelligence services were told about the Trump allegations by Mr Steele, The Independent has learned. A senior official from one of the services confirmed that this week, before the news of the dossier broke in the US.
Under normal procedure the seriousness of the issue and the importance of the person in the centre of it, the President-elect of the US, would mean that the Prime Minister and the relevant members of her cabinet would be kept informed.
This means that as Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson would almost certainly have been told about the allegations by MI6 and would have been aware of them during his visit to America this week to meet officials close to Mr Trump.
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