Former FBI official Charles McGonigal under grand jury scrutiny over Russia ties

A former top FBI agent who helped investigate Trump campaign 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 to examine the conduct of Charles McGonigal, the former head of counterintelligence at the FBI’s field office in New York. The Justice Department declined to comment on what the grand jury was investigating or whether it remains pending. But a subpoena obtained by Insider appears to indicate the government was partly investigating 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, seeks documents 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 helped him “facilitate” an introduction between Spectrum and Deripaska’s assistant. The filing also says McGonigal helped introduce the assistant to Kobre & Kim, a New York law firm that specializes in representing clients being investigated on suspicion of “fraud and misconduct.” “. Shestakov, who was identified on TV panels as a former Soviet foreign ministry official and former chief of staff to the Soviet ambassador to the United Nations, said he received $33,000 for the referrals.

While it would not necessarily have been illegal for McGonigal to work on Deripaska’s behalf, the failure to disclose activities covered by the Foreign Agents Registration Act, such as lobbying and public relations, is liable to a fine of $250,000 and up to five years in prison. . Deripaska was sanctioned by the Treasury Department in 2018 for acting as a Kremlin agent and was charged with ordering the murder of a businessman. “If McGonigal is somehow confused with Deripaska, it seems inappropriate to me, to put it politely,” says Tim Weiner, the author of “Enemies: An FBI History.”

An attachment to a subpoena to appear before a grand jury.

A subpoena obtained by Insider points to information federal prosecutors were looking for on former FBI official Charles McGonigal.

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Neither McGonigal nor those he is quoted with responded to Insider’s requests for comment. “This is not an area where we can make a statement at this time,” a rep for Kobre & Kim said.

It is unclear whether McGonigal is a target of the grand jury investigation, or simply a subject whose activities are connected to it in some way. And nothing in the court documents or elsewhere suggests that McGonigal behaved inappropriately during the FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign. But the documents requested in the subpoena raise questions about whether a top FBI agent may have exploited the relationships he built during his years of public service for private gain – a practice all too common among Washington insiders. And regardless of McGonigal’s actions, the fact that he was dragged into a grand jury investigation is highly unusual. According to a former senior Justice Department official who asked not to be identified, prosecutors almost never consider charges against someone so senior in the FBI. “It’s very rare that former FBI members, and certainly former senior FBI officials, end up being targets of a grand jury,” the official said.

McGonigal’s federal review is particularly striking given his work in the FBI. Prior to his retirement in 2018, McGonigal led the WikiLeaks investigation into Chelsea Manning, arrested Bill Clinton’s national security adviser Sandy Berger for removing classified documents from a National Archives reading room, and conducted the search for a Chinese mole inside the CIA. In 2016, when reports surfaced that Russia had hacked into the Democratic National Committee’s email system, McGonigal was chief of the cybercrime section at FBI headquarters in Washington. In this 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.

According to the subpoena, prosecutors are also looking into whether McGonigal has any ties to the government of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as any “payments or gifts” provided to him by the governments of Kosovo, Montenegro and Turkey. ‘Albania.

Edi Rama, the Albanian Prime Minister, in Brussels earlier this year.

McGonigal used his official FBI letterhead to try to arrange a business meeting with Edi Rama, the Albanian Prime Minister.

Thierry Monasse/Getty Images


Two sources told Insider that McGonigal was close to Edi Rama, who has served as Albania’s prime minister since 2013. According to an email reviewed by Insider, McGonigal used his official FBI email account to try to organize a meeting between Rama and an American. company the Prime Minister was planning to hire for an anti-corruption initiative. In the end, the FBI did not give McGonigal approval for the meeting, and it never happened.

A representative for Rama said the Prime Minister’s relationship with McGonigal was “a completely private friendship with no public interest. We have no idea of ​​a grand jury and no US authority has ever contacted us about it. He there were never any corporate meetings, gifts, payments, travel reimbursements before or after Mr. McGonigal left his job.”

Since leaving the FBI, McGonigal has continued to exploit his counterintelligence expertise. In 2020, months after his reported assistance using Deripaska, he appeared on an Atlantic Council panel, where he condemned the corruption of the Russian security services. “You see an erosion of any rule of law when it comes to the FSB,” he said. “It would be tantamount to having the FBI in the United States as a rogue element, operating at the behest of the highest bidder.”

McGonigal’s LinkedIn profile says he is the senior vice president of “global security and life safety” at Brookfield Properties, a multibillion-dollar real estate company in New York City. But this information, apparently, is inaccurate. “Charlie McGonigal is no longer with Brookfield,” Andrew Brent, Brookfield’s chief communications officer, told Insider. McGonigal left the company, he added, in early January – just as witnesses were due to appear before the grand jury.


Mattathias Schwartz is a senior correspondent at Insider.

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