Moscow (CNSNews.com) – The Kremlin has confirmed that a former official alleged to have been a CIA informant worked in Russia’s presidential administration, but denied media reports that the man had access to President Vladimir Putin.
Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Oleg Smolenkov, the Russian former diplomat reported by media outlets here to have been an American spy, was fired several years ago and never occupied a senior role in the Russian government.
“It is true, Smolenkov used to work in the presidential administration but a few years ago he was dismissed through an internal instruction,” he said. “His position did not belong to the category of high-ranking state officials.”
Peskov said the alleged CIA agent’s former position in the Kremlin “did not involve any contacts with the president.”
The comments come after a CNN report on Monday claimed that the CIA extracted the “highest level source for the U.S. inside the Kremlin” in 2017 over concerns about President Trump’s handling of classified information.
The report cited anonymous sources who asserted that “the spy had access to Putin and could even provide images of documents on the Russian leader’s desk.”
A subsequent story in the New York Times stated the CIA first made the decision to extract the agent from Russia in late 2016 – before Trump took office.
It said the agent played a major role in forming the intelligence community’s conclusions about Russian intervention during the 2016 election. The Times reported that he was “instrumental” in persuading the CIA that Putin personally “ordered and orchestrated” the Kremlin’s interference campaign in order to aid Trump’s victory.
The Russian Kommersant newspaper later identified the man as Smolenkov, an aide to Putin’s foreign policy advisor Yuri Ushakov. In June 2017, Smolenkov and his family suddenly vanished while vacationing in Montenegro. Although Russian authorities initially investigated the group’s disappearance as a murder case, they later concluded that the Smolenkov family was alive and residing abroad.
Using publicly available real-estate data, Kommersant discovered that a man named Oleg Smolenkov purchased a $925,000 home in Stafford, Virginia on June 5, 2018.
It is not clear how much Smolenkov actually knew about the Kremlin’s covert plans. One anonymous Russian intelligence official told the Russian news website Vedomosti that while Smolenkov did not have access to state secrets, he could have learned them through conversations with colleagues.
Nevertheless, Vedomosti’s source suggested that Smolenkov’s primary value to the CIA was not his insider information, but his willingness to say "what they are so eager to hear."
Peskov said that he could not confirm whether or not Smolenkov worked for the CIA, but slammed the CNN report as “pulp fiction.”
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters on Tuesday he knew nothing about Smolenkov’s work in the Kremlin.
“I have never seen him, I have never met him, and I have neither kept track of his career nor his movements,” he said.
Lavrov also denied that Trump had shared classified information with him and then-Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak during a May 2017 meeting in the Oval Office. CNN claimed that incident prompted the CIA’s decision to excavate its high-ranking informant.
“No one shared any state or even non-state secrets with anyone during that conversation,” Lavrov said. “By the way, this was confirmed by U.S. National Security Advisor [H.R.] McMaster, who was present at that meeting, as well as other people, who are somehow familiar with what was discussed then.”
Russian officials were not alone in contesting CNN’s claim about Trump handing over confidential information to Moscow. When reached for comment by CNN for its story, CIA public affairs director Brittany Bramell issued a denial that was unusually strong for the agency.
“CNN's narrative that the Central Intelligence Agency makes life-or-death decisions based on anything other than objective analysis and sound collection is simply false,” she said. “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.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also pushed back against the report during a Tuesday White House press conference.
“The reporting is materially inaccurate. And you should know, as the former CIA Director, I don’t talk about things like this very often,” he said. “It is only the occasions when there is something that I think puts people at risk, or the reporting is so egregious as to create enormous risk to the United States of America that I even comment in the way that I just did.”