Vladimir Putin reportedly moved to prevent Donald Trump from appointing Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate for the presidential race in 2012, as secretary of state after Trump’s election victory 16 months ago, according to a report in an American magazine.
The New Yorker says that an unreleased memo written by the former British spy Christopher Steele, the contents of which have not been aired before, claims the Kremlin prevented Mr Romney being given the role of America's top diplomat.
The magazine reports that Mr Steele, an ex-MI6 officer who drafted a memo before the November 2016 election which raised questions about Mr Trump's collusion with the Russians as well as exposed a slew of salacious rumours about his sex life, then wrote a further document in which he made the explosive claim about Mr Romney.
When running against Barack Obama in 2012, Mr Romney had called the Russians the greatest threat to the United States. During Mr Trump’s successful run two years ago, Mr Romney was one of the harshest critics of him from the Republican establishment.
However, while the current president was deciding who would take the top jobs in his administration, Mr Trump encouraged speculation that the former governor of Massachusetts was in the running for the state department job.
The pair met at a dinner where they were photographed together.
However, the New Yorker says that the Steele memo reveals that he had been told by a "senior Russian official" that the Putin government wanted whoever took the state role to be someone who would be friendlier to their foreign policy goals – that they would desist with sanctions against Moscow relating to their involvement in Ukraine would also back the Russian stance over Syria.
The White House has denied that Mr Romney was ever a serious candidate for the role, and wouldn't comment on “any communications that the Trump team may have had with Russia on the subject.”
Other have pointed out the president’s apparent public courting of Mr Romney was actually an attempt to humiliate the latter, a scion of the old school Republican party that attempted to thwart Mr Trump.
Mr Romney is currently running for the Republican nomination for one of the Senate seats in Utah.