Svetlana Lokhova was accused of being a Russian spy and of turning General Michael Flynn into a Russian asset. Now that charges against Flynn have been dropped, Lokhova should finally be cleared of her involvement in the giant waste of time that was SpyGate as well.
I met with Lokhova recently at her hotel in Washington, DC to find out more about what happened to her and what SpyGate was all about. As I sat down with her to hear her story, I realized that it's something out of a novel. Though it reads like fiction, it has been very real and life altering for her and her family. Lokhova was implicated in the infamous SpyGate scandal, and ever since then trying to clear her name has been a full-time job.
Writing in The Federalist, which has been instrumental in exposing this story when no other outlets would touch it, Margot Cleveland discusses Lokhova's alleged involvement. While multiple news outlets clamored on the story that Lokhova and Flynn had a relationship, Lokhova has denied it from the beginning. In fact, she barely knew Flynn at all, and had met him once at a dinner hosted by her professor Christopher Andrews.
Yet Lokhova's involvement was a key aspect of the SpyGate saga that was meant to bring down the President. Lokhova and her struggle to free herself from this untrue narrative of treasonous entanglement has been overlooked.
As it was unfolding, with dossiers and Senators' accusations and talk of assets and agents, SpyGate was hard to follow. It was easier for many to simply assume that Trump was, as Hillary Clinton called him, a Putin Puppet, a bought man, a Manchurian candidate. Typical Democrats believed the story as it was related by Senator Adam Schiff, while Trump-supporting Republicans defended the assorted accused against the allegations. The truth appeared as an ephemeral whatness that was impossible to discern.
However, while each thread of the story was pulled and its fibers examined under a microscope, Lokhova, who was the lynchpin that secured Flynn to Russian influence, was barely scrutinized. Looking in even the most cursory way at her story shows clearly that she was neither a spy nor a seductress. Yet these are the accusations leveled against her. And what she has discovered is that there is no way to clear her name.
Lokhova was a researcher at Cambridge, studying espionage and the beginnings of the Russian secret service. She had emigrated to the UK when she was 18, lived in England for 20 years, and was an academic and researcher working on her dissertation under her advisor and mentor, Christopher Andrews. It was all pretty normal. In fact, Andrews had suggested her course of research, thinking that she would find it interesting.
She did, and the work was going well. There were original source documents, including a box of Stalin's paperwork, which held documents written in his own hand. For any historian, the original papers of a notorious dictator would provide a fascinating look inside the head of a man who had such a heavy impact on the world. Andrews even collaborated with Lokhova on what became her first book, "The Spy Who Changed History: The Untold Story of How the Soviet Union Stole America's Top Secrets."
Lokhova was an attendee at weekly research meetings, where fellows would share their work with each other. There was one older man in these weekly seminars, and though he was a bit of an anomaly, even falling asleep during presentations, the other students paid him little attention.
"So what happens is this American man," Lokhova told me, "he's in his 70s, he's around Cambridge University. And once a week, we have this meeting called Cambridge Intelligence Seminar, where people are researching boring topics like mine, very interesting to me, but very boring for everyone else. And we meet maybe ten of us every week to discuss our research, and he attends every week." There was nothing really remarkable about the work Lokhova was doing. It was interesting, sure, but it was not international news.
The trouble all began in February 2014, when Andrews asked her to attend a dinner, which she did. Andrews was her advisor, after all, and she had much respect for him. The old man from the research group, Stephen Halper, wasn't at the dinner, although he told reporters that he was. General Michael Flynn was there. During dinner, Andrews asked Lokhova to show Flynn one of the documents she'd discovered. Lokhova and Flynn weren't sitting near each other, though it was reported that they were sitting side by side.
She told me the details of the dinner. "There were twelve of us, and Professor Christopher Andrews says, at the end of the dinner, 'why don't you show General Flynn one of your documents,' that he knows I was working on, because I was writing my Ph.D. So I have this iPad where I have this document scanned, and it's a photograph of a postcard, it's an archival document."
It was a postcard, written by Joseph Stalin, about how he was running from the secret service. This was prior to his becoming head of the empire himself. In fact, Lokhova told me, giving in to the temptation to switch gears and talk history, it was Stalin's experience dodging the secret service that informed his building of it later, according to his own specifications. Despite everything she's been through, she has a real passion for research and study.
"And I wasn't even that interested in the dinner frankly, because I don't like these kinds of events, I like just doing my research, but if your professor tells you 'you have to come to this thing,' you go to dinner," Lokhova told me.
"So I do my spiel about 'this is a fascinating document,' and everyone looks at the document, they all pass the iPad around, and that's it. And then they say, 'can you send that to me, a copy of that document, that looks very interesting,' so I sent it to a bunch of people who were at the dinner, including General Flynn, his assistant, a couple of other people. And that's it, that's the only time I met the man in my life."
They exchanged a couple of emails, and her advisor was copied on all of them. That was the full extent of their communication. Lokhova and Flynn both attended a group dinner. They talked and corresponded briefly about Stalin. That was the sum total of their relationship.
Three years later, Lokhova was labeled a Russian spy as a result of this interaction. She was finishing her dissertation, which had now turned into a book. She had just given birth to her daughter. "So then, I had all these newspapers descending on me. And they have my email address, they have my contact details, and they start sending me emails about a 'relationship with General Flynn.''' She had no idea what they were talking about.
"I couldn't speak to them, because I was too unwell after childbirth." She recalls the emails pinging all night because of the time difference of American journalists reaching out late at night UK time. Her husband talked to the reporters, and initially he thought it was a simple misunderstanding. But each reporter had the same information, the wrong information, about Lokhova's interaction with Flynn. It was as though they'd been briefed.
Lokhova was at the crux of the fabrication that Flynn was a Russian agent, and the entire story seems to have been manufactured by Halper. In the whole of the SpyGate controversy, Lokhova was the only Russian. It turns out that she has no ties to Russian espionage circles or individuals. But no one actually dug into that. Instead, journalists and Senators alike took the inference that Flynn had been seduced at a dinner by a honeypot of a Russian agent and ran with it.
I'm sure I'm not the only one who barely followed along with this whole story when it was breaking. It seemed marvellously convoluted, most articles I read about it were well in the weeds. Dossiers and insinuations were flung about with abandon. The whole story had shady edges that didn't make any sense. Virtually every Democrat I spoke to about this was entirely sure that Trump had been bought by Russia to do the bidding of that nation's head of state, while every Republican used phrases like "witch hunt." I stayed out of it, the truth did not appear to be even remotely forthcoming.
That was until I had a chance to meet with Svetlana Lokhova, and hear her self-defence about these accusations. The only word for the predicament in which she finds herself is Kafkaesque. And if you haven't read "The Trial," in which the lead character K is forced to defend himself against unknown charges and every time he speaks in his own defence it solidifies his guilt, now might be a good time to download a copy. It mirrors Lokhova's situation well.
Lokhova maintains her innocence against those who accused her across the press, and the evidence they claimed to have against her is nothing but insinuation and supposition. There are lots of odd little details that were used to show her guilt, but even the most cursory scraping into them shows that they are proof of nothing. Margot Cleveland and The Federalist have overturned all of these. Lokhova has been in the US to try and clear her name through a defamation lawsuit. While this has failed because the newspaper reports against her are too old, Lokhova plans to appeal.
Lokhova was used. Her name and Russian heritage, her research interests, and how unknown she was at the time she was dragged into this mess were all used against her. Journalists, politicians, and pundits took this story and ran with it because they wanted it to be true. But instead of taking down President Trump, it took down Svetlana Lokhova, who will be dealing with the fall out from these lies for years to come.