The BBC has learned that US officials “verified” a key claim in a report about Kremlin involvement in Donald Trump’s election – that a Russian diplomat in Washington was in fact a spy.
So far, no single piece of evidence has been made public proving that the Trump campaign joined with Russia to steal the US presidency – nothing.
But the FBI Director, James Comey, told a hushed committee room in Congress last week that this is precisely what his agents are investigating.
Stop to let that thought reverberate for a moment.
“Investigation is not proof,” said the president’s spokesman.
Trump’s supporters are entitled to ask why – with the FBI’s powers to subpoena witnesses and threaten charges of obstructing justice – nothing damning has emerged.
Perhaps there is nothing to find. But some former senior officials say it is because of failings in the inquiry, of which more later.
The roadmap for the investigation, publicly acknowledged now for the first time, comes from Christopher Steele, once of Britain’s secret intelligence service MI6.
He wrote a series of reports for political opponents of Donald Trump about Trump and Russia.
Steele’s “dossier”, as the material came to be known, contains a number of highly contested claims.
At one point he wrote: “A leading Russian diplomat, Mikhail KULAGIN, had been withdrawn from Washington at short notice because Moscow feared his heavy involvement in the US presidential election operation… would be exposed in the media there.”
There was no diplomat called Kulagin in the Russian embassy; there was a Kalugin.
One of Trump’s allies, Roger Stone, said to me of Steele, scornfully: “If 007 wants to be taken seriously, he ought to learn how to spell.”
The Russian Foreign Ministry said Kalugin was head of the embassy’s economics section.