A Cambridge University intelligence group whose members include a glamorous Russian student has been dragged into the escalating row over the Trump campaign’s potential links to the Kremlin.
MPs have demanded an investigation into potential Russian interference in Britain amid fresh claims over the ties Michael Flynn – Mr Trump’s former national security adviser – has to Moscow.
Mr Flynn has requested immunity in exchange for testifying before the FBI and congressional committees who are investigating connections between the Trump campaign team and Russia.
Mr Flynn was forced to quit the job after just 24 days after it emerged he lied about talks with Moscow’s US ambassador.
Scrutiny has now turned to a visit made to Cambridge University by Mr Flynn in February 2014 when he was director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, a US intelligence service.
Mr Flynn struck up a friendship at a Cambridge dinner with a Russian banker turned academic whom he then sought to enlist as a translator on an official trip to Moscow.
Mr Flynn continued an unclassified email correspondence with the woman, Svetlana Lokhova, occasionally signing off his emails “general Misha”, using the Russian nickname for Michael.
The Wall Street Journal claims Mr Flynn, 58, should have disclosed his interactions with 36-year-old Miss Lokhova under US intelligence rules but failed to do so.
Mr Flynn was giving a talk at the Cambridge Intelligence Seminar, an academic forum, which itself has been open to claims of “unacceptable Russian influence” because of funding it received from a Russian backed publisher.
The growing row over alleged Russian meddling in the US elections and the actions of Mr Flynn has prompted demands for MPs on the powerful intelligence and security committee to launch an inquiry.
Sir Gerald Howarth, a former defence minister, said: “There are grounds for concern about Russian interference. The intelligence and security committee needs to be investigating this. It should look at all forms of Russian interference in British life and if that includes a group of Cambridge academics then so be it.”
A source close the committee said the situation was being monitored. The source said: “It is quite clear from various pieces of evidence that the Russians are seen as extremely pro-active in a whole variety of disruptive practices.”
Mr Flynn quit the Defense Intelligence Agency in April 2014, six weeks after the Cambridge trip. A year later he was paid a reported $45,000 to attend a gala dinner in Moscow, where he sat next to Mr Putin.
Mr Flynn’s encounter with Miss Lokhova was exposed in February this year in an article written in The Sunday Times by Professor Christopher Andrew, MI5’s official historian and convenor of the Cambridge Intelligence seminar. Miss Lokhova was one of Prof Andrew’s postgraduate students.
Miss Lokhova herself hit the headlines in 2015 when she was awarded £3.2 million payout after winning a tribunal case against the Russian state-controlled Sberbank for sex discrimination and harassment.
Miss Lokhova has declined to comment on her relationship with Mr Flynn but her partner David North told The Wall Street Journal she had a 20-minute conversation with Mr Flynn at the event but that the two “have not met or spoke since”.
Mr Flynn’s spokesman told The Wall Street Journal: “This is a false story. The inference that the contact between general Flynn and a Russian national described in this story should be seen in any light other than incidental contact is simply untrue.”