What if “Russia collusion” took place at the FBI rather than inside the Trump campaign? Business Insider dug into court documents to discover that a former high-ranking FBI official that worked on their investigation into Donald Trump’s supposed collusion with Russia in 2016 has his own business connections to Russia. According to one witness in a grand-jury probe of Charles McGonigal, the former head of counterintelligence in the New York office helped connect him to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska — the same oligarch the Department of Justice claimed was involved in the Russia-collusion conspiracy.
Awwwww-kward, if true:
A former high-level FBI agent who was involved in the investigation into the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia during the 2016 election has himself come under scrutiny by federal prosecutors for his ties with Russia and other foreign governments.
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.
And what was McGonigal’s role in Operation Crossfire Hurricane? He helped kick it off:
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.
In case anyone has forgotten, Deripaska has been at the very least a connected figure in the Russia-collusion allegations. The Department of Justice tried to build its case for that theory in part on Paul Manafort’s attempts to sell Deripaska inside information from the Trump campaign, don’t forget. The Washington Post reported it five years ago almost to the day:
Less than two weeks before Donald Trump accepted the Republican presidential nomination, his campaign chairman offered to provide briefings on the race to a Russian billionaire closely aligned with the Kremlin, according to people familiar with the discussions.
Paul Manafort made the offer in an email to an overseas intermediary, asking that a message be sent to Oleg Deripaska, an aluminum magnate with whom Manafort had done business in the past, these people said.
“If he needs private briefings we can accommodate,” Manafort wrote in the July 7, 2016, email, portions of which were read to The Washington Post along with other Manafort correspondence from that time.
The emails are among tens of thousands of documents that have been turned over to congressional investigators and special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s team as they probe whether Trump associates coordinated with Russia as part of Moscow’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election.
That came out well before McGonigal’s retirement from the FBI in 2018. Deripaska’s name came up in relation to Manafort as early as August 2016, in fact. The New York Times mentioned Deripaska as a crony of not just Vladimir Putin but his former Ukrainian stooge, Viktor Yanukovich:
Handwritten ledgers show $12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments designated for Mr. Manafort from Mr. Yanukovych’s pro-Russian political party from 2007 to 2012, according to Ukraine’s newly formed National Anti-Corruption Bureau. Investigators assert that the disbursements were part of an illegal off-the-books system whose recipients also included election officials.
In addition, criminal prosecutors are investigating a group of offshore shell companies that helped members of Mr. Yanukovych’s inner circle finance their lavish lifestyles, including a palatial presidential residence with a private zoo, golf course and tennis court. Among the hundreds of murky transactions these companies engaged in was an $18 million deal to sell Ukrainian cable television assets to a partnership put together by Mr. Manafort and a Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, a close ally of President Vladimir V. Putin.
In other words, a person who served as the head of counterintelligence for the FBI’s field office in New York knew who and what Deripaska is. His name got mention in the media as a Putin crony and supporter, let alone whatever other intelligence the FBI had on the oligarch prior to that. By 2018, Deripaska had been sanctioned by the Treasury Department for failing to register under the FARA regulations as an agent for the Russian government.
None of that could have gone unnoticed by McGonigal. 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.