Trump/Russia investigator hid ties to Russian billionaire

(AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File)

If there is one thing you can count on with The Swamp it’s that every time they accuse a Republican of doing something, they themselves are likely to be guilty of that very thing themselves.

That may be the case with Charles McGonigal, the former head of counterintelligence at the FBI field office in New York City. In an exclusive report by Military and Defense Insider it was revealed that McGonigal appears to be under grand jury investigation for–get ready–improper ties to Russia.

McGonigal was no bit player in the Russia Russia Russia drama: he was one of the key instigators who got the ball rolling back in 2016. When he was at the FBI he was quite the bigwig, playing major roles in a number of high profile cases.

Before his retirement in 2018, McGonigal led the WikiLeaks investigation into Chelsea Manning, busted Bill Clinton’s national security advisor Sandy Berger for removing classified material from a National Archives reading room, and led the search for a Chinese mole inside the CIA. In 2016, when reports surfaced that Russia had hacked the email system of the Democratic National Committee, McGonigal was serving as chief of the cybercrimes section at FBI headquarters in Washington. In that capacity, he was one of the first officials to learn that a Trump campaign official had bragged that the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton, sparking the investigation known as Operation Crossfire Hurricane. Later that year, FBI Director James Comey promoted McGonigal to oversee counterintelligence operations in New York.

He has apparently been swept up into a grand jury investigation that is looking into his ties to a Russian billionaire and work he appears to have done with his representatives. It isn’t totally clear what exactly is being investigated and how central McGonigal is to the inquiry, but it looks pretty bad.

Late last year, according to internal court documents obtained by Insider, US attorneys secretly convened a grand jury that examined the conduct of Charles McGonigal, the former head of counterintelligence at the FBI field office in New York City. The Justice Department declined to comment on what the grand jury was investigating or whether it remained ongoing. But a witness subpoena obtained by Insider seems to indicate that the government, in part, was looking into McGonigal’s business dealings with a top aide to Oleg Deripaska, the billionaire Russian oligarch who was at the center of allegations that Russia colluded with the Trump campaign to interfere in the 2016 election.

The subpoena, issued in November, requests records relating to McGonigal and a shadowy consulting firm called Spectrum Risk Solutions. A week after the subpoena was issued, a Soviet-born immigrant named Sergey Shestakov said in a separate filing that McGonigal had helped him “facilitate” an introduction between Spectrum and Deripaska’s aide. The filing also states that McGonigal helped introduce the aide to Kobre & Kim, a New York law firm that specializes in representing clients who are being investigated on suspicion of “fraud and misconduct.” Shestakov, who has been identified on TV panels as a former Soviet foreign ministry official and former chief of staff to the Soviet ambassador to the United Nations, reported receiving $33,000 for the referrals.

It’s not clear that anything McGonigal did for the sketchy Russians was illegal, but he failed to report doing any work for them. That in itself may be a violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Depending upon the exact scope of what the former FBI agent did he may or may not have violated the law.

While it wouldn’t necessarily have been illegal for McGonigal to work on behalf of Deripaska, failing to disclose activities covered by the Foreign Agents Registration Act, such as lobbying and public relations, is punishable by a $250,000 fine and up to five years in prison. Deripaska was sanctioned by the Treasury Department in 2018 for acting as an agent for the Kremlin, and has been accused of ordering the murder of a businessman. “If McGonigal is mixed up in any way shape or form with Deripaska, that strikes me as unseemly, to put it politely,” says Tim Weiner, the author of “Enemies: A History of the FBI.”

There is little doubt that McGonigal’s ties to a sketchy Russian oligarch are clear evidence that he isn’t as squeaky clean as a top FBI official would like to appear. After all, one of the great perks of having had such a position is peddling the prestige of having had such a job. He certainly has been capitalizing off his status, and getting tied up with sanctioned Russian agents of the Kremlin might hit him in the pocketbook. Perhaps that is why he decided to hide his relationship.

It’s impossible to know at this stage whether McGonigal’s super-friendly ties to Russians played a role in his zeal to get Donald Trump, but these revelations certainly raise questions. Despite the constant repetition that Trump was Russia’s puppet, he was actually far more antagonistic in policy to Russia than Obama ever was. And we know that Hillary Clinton used her ties in Russia to stir up suspicion that Trump was colluding with Russia (she colluded with Russians to fake a narrative that Trump colluded with Russia; how ironic), faking the whole Steele Dossier narrative with Russian help.

Was McGonigal somehow involved? Did he have any contemporaneous or future financial interests? At the moment nobody but the grand jury knows.

These days McGonigal presents himself as a pious and wise man who is using his expertise to defend truth, justice and the American way. He compares the FBI to the FSB favorably.

Since he left the FBI, McGonigal has continued to trade on his expertise in counterintelligence. In 2020, months after his reported assistance to Deripaska’s aide, he appeared on a panel at the Atlantic Council, where he condemned the corruption of Russia’s security services. “You are seeing an erosion in any rule of law as it relates to the FSB,” he said. “It would be akin to having in the United States the FBI as a rogue element, operating at the behest of the highest bidder.”

Unfortunately too many Americans have come to suspect that the FBI actually is a rogue element, operating at the behest of, if not the highest bidder, then the most powerful one.

As Donald Trump would say: sad.

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