BREAKING: Former FBI counterintel official arrested for violating sanctions on Russian oligarch; UPDATE: Money laundering, and more

BREAKING: Former FBI counterintel official arrested for violating sanctions on Russian oligarch
(AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)

Last September, I called this allegation “too bad to check.” Now we can call it “too bad to ignore.” The FBI agent who helped kickstart Operation Crossfire Hurricane and created more than two years of panic over Russia collusion has been arrested today for … wait for it

A former top FBI official in New York has been arrested over his ties to a Russian oligarch, law enforcement sources told ABC News Monday.

Charles McGonigal, who was the special agent in charge of counterintelligence in the FBI’s New York Field Office, is under arrest over his ties to Oleg Deripaska, a Russian billionaire who has been sanctioned by the United States and criminally charged last year with violating those sanctions. …

McGonigal is charged with violating U.S. sanctions by trying to get Deripaska off the sanctions list.

McGonigal’s status as the FBI’s point man for counterintelligence in its New York field office makes this bad enough. However, as Business Insider reported in September, McGonigal’s efforts helped launch a fruitless two-years-plus “witch hunt” against Donald Trump and his campaign over the kind of collusion with Russia’s oligarchs that McGonigal allegedly conducted himself:

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.

The connections go even deeper. The US had sanctions on Deripaska in relation to his connections to Paul Manafort, which turned out to be unrelated to the Trump campaign — an investigation that the Department of Justice dropped until after Trump’s election. Robert Mueller resurrected it to pressure Manafort into turning on Trump, but as it happened, Manafort didn’t have anything to give.

As I wrote at the time, this raises all sorts of questions about what McGonigal has been playing at:

So why would someone who saw a dumb brag by a low-level campaign consultant as a national security risk agree to work with the oligarch playing a role in the supposed conspiracy? If those connections took place after McGonigal’s retirement, it speaks to the risk that McGonigal truly saw from Deripaska. At the very least, it leaves the impression that McGonigal never bought the Russia-collusion theory even as he and his colleagues pursued it for years.

If those connections started before McGonigal’s retirement, though … hoo boy. This comes at the same time that we discover that the FBI actively paid Igor Danchenko as a confidential informant starting in early 2017, even as it became obvious that his claims in the Steele dossier were nonsense — and just a few years after the FBI investigated Danchenko as a suspected Russian-intel operative. That’s an awful lot of apparent collusion between the FBI and a couple of Russians. It leaves us to wonder just where the collusion problem may really have been all along.

Indeed it does. Stay tuned, in other words. Perhaps McGonigal may have more to say on that.

Update: The Associated Press reports that McGonigal has been charged with money laundering as well as attempting to assist Deripaska in a feud with another Russian oligarch:

McGonigal, 54, and the interpreter, Sergey Shestakov, 69, were arrested Saturday. McGonigal was taken into custody after landing at John F. Kennedy International Airport. They are scheduled to appear in court in Manhattan on Monday. Both are being held at a federal jail in Brooklyn.

McGonigal and Shestakov are charged with violating and conspiring to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, conspiring to commit money laundering and money laundering. Shestakov is also charged with making material misstatements to the FBI.

McGonigal was separately charged in federal court in Washington, D.C. with concealing $225,000 in payments he received from an outside source with whom he traveled to Europe.

What part of this involves Operation Crossfire Hurricane? Maybe this part:

The New York indictment alleges that McGonigal was introduced by Shestakov in 2018 to a former Soviet diplomat who functioned as an agent for Deripaska. That person is not identified in court papers but the Justice Department says he was “rumored in public media reports to be a Russian intelligence officer.”

According to the indictment, Shestakov asked McGonigal for his help in getting the daughter of Deripaska’s agent an internship with the New York Police Department. McGonigal agreed, prosecutors say, and told a police department contact that, “I have interest in her father for a number of reasons.”

Or this part, perhaps, rinsed through Albania?

The Justice Department says McGonigal also hid from the FBI key details of a 2017 trip he took to Albania with a former member of that country’s intelligence service who had given him the $225,000.

McGonigal apparently neglected to report these contacts fully, as required for FBI agents generally and counterintelligence officials more specifically.

Like I said earlier … stay tuned. This is going to get ugly for the Bureau and for the DoJ.

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