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Spy poisoning has hallmarks of a Putin hit, says ex-CIA Moscow station chief

Michael Isikoff
Chief Investigative Correspondent
Emergency services at the scene of the poisoning of Sergei Skripal, right, and his daughter, Yulia. (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images, TASS via Getty Images)

The poisoning in the south of England of a former Russian spy was “most likely” ordered by Russian president Vladimir Putin in order to send a message to potential dissidents and defectors on the eve of his expected re-election, says the CIA’s former station chief in Moscow.

Daniel Hoffman, who served in Russia during the early years of the Obama administration and arranged the 2010 spy swap that freed the victim of the attack, Russian double agent Sergei Skripal, discusses the bizarre case in this week’s episode of the Yahoo News podcast “Skullduggery.”

“You probably won’t be able to prove this in a court of law, but there will be enough evidence to point in the direction of the Kremlin,” said Hoffman. He cited the use of a nerve agent — a substance, he noted, that is easy to carry across international borders — as evidence that strongly implicates a “state actor,” Russia being the most likely candidate.

“Let’s all remember that Vladimir Putin is going to be re-elected on March 18. It’s more like a coronation,” said Hoffman. “Putin wants to deliver a message first and foremost to his security services,” lest they be tempted to defect or spy for rivals.

Skripal and his adult daughter, Yulia, collapsed in a public street Sunday and are reportedly comatose in a British hospital. Several police officials who came into contact with them were also injured.

Listen to Episode 9: Who poisoned the Russian double agent in England?

Although he is not permitted to discuss it, Hoffman has a direct connection to Skripal. After the FBI arrested a network of Russian spies in the United States, known as “the illegals,” Hoffman negotiated the spy swap that allowed the Russian spies to go home in exchange for Western spies imprisoned in Russia. One of them was Skripal, a former Russian military intelligence officer who had been recruited by British intelligence, and was arrested in 2004 and convicted of selling military secrets.

Although there is no evidence that Skripal had been doing anything in England that might have angered the Kremlin since he was freed, Hoffman said this doesn’t matter to Putin. He recalls that when the spy swap was arranged, Putin was quoted as saying, “Traitors always end badly.”

“I think he had his mind set that he was going to have his revenge on those who got out in that spy swap,” Hoffman said.

Also on “Skullduggery” this week: Randy Credico, the New York comic and former radio talk show host. Credico was singled out by Roger Stone as the “backchannel” to Julian Assange who tipped Stone off to WikiLeaks’ plans to dump emails damaging to Hillary Clinton.

But in the new book, “Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump,” Credico disputes Stone’s account, and says Stone, the longtime political consultant and self-proclaimed “dirty trickster,” was falsely fingering him as “the fall guy.” He says that he “absolutely” never told Stone anything about Assange’s plans to release Clinton emails, because he knew nothing about them.

Credico repeated that denial on “Skullduggery.” However, he said he expects to receive a subpoena from special counsel Robert Mueller, probably in the next few days, seeking documents and possibly his testimony about his conversations with Stone.  If he does get a subpoena, Credico said, he may defy Mueller and invoke his Fifth Amendment rights. Asked whether that is what he now intends to do, Credico said: “I’d have to flip a coin right now.”

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