A former top FBI counterintelligence official who was involved in the Trump-Russia collusion investigation was arrested on charges of conspiring to violate U.S. sanctions on Russia, federal prosecutors announced Monday.
Charles McGonigal, who had been the special agent in charge of the FBI’s counterintelligence division in New York, is accused of taking secret payments from Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska in exchange for investigating a rival oligarch, according to court documents.
Mr. McGonigal, 54, is one of the highest-ranking FBI officials ever charged with a crime. He faces one count of violating U.S. sanctions, one count of money laundering and two conspiracy counts.
Each of the four counts, which were filed in a New York federal court, carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
Appearing in a Manhattan federal court Monday afternoon, Mr. McGonigal pleaded not guilty to the four-count indictment. The judge released him on a $500,000 personal recognizance bond plus travel restrictions and prohibitions on contacting anyone else associated with the case.
Corey Lewandowski, a former Trump campaign manager, said the indictment underscores the duplicity of the FBI.
“The depth of the corruption inside the FBI knows no bounds. They quite literally had the fox guarding the henhouse as it relates to Donald J. Trump,” he told The Washington Times. “The chief ‘investigator’ of alleged ties between Trump and Russia turns out to have his own illegal ties to Russia. Nothing shocks me anymore.”
A separate indictment by the U.S. attorney in Washington unsealed Monday accuses Mr. McGonigal of falsifying records and documents. It said he made false statements to conceal a $225,000 payment from an individual with business interests in Europe who he knew was an employee of a foreign intelligence service.
The nine-count indictment said that while Mr. McGonigal worked for the FBI, he sought to conceal from the bureau his ties to the unidentified former intelligence official, even while traveling abroad with the person and meeting with foreign nationals.
Court documents describe the intelligence officer as an Albanian national who was employed by a Chinese energy conglomerate. Prosecutors said Mr. McGonigal had a business relationship with the official from August 2017 through September 2018, when he retired from the bureau.
Prosecutors said the unidentified intelligence official later “served as an FBI source in a criminal investigation involving foreign political lobbying” in which Mr. McGonigal had a supervisory role.
An initial appearance in a federal court in the District of Columbia has not been scheduled.
His attorney, Seth DuCharme, said in a statement that he expects Mr. McGonigal to be exonerated.
“Charlie served the United States capably, effectively, for decades,” Mr. DuCharme said. “We have closely reviewed the accusations made by the government and we look forward to receiving discovery so we can get a view on what the evidence is upon which the government intends to rely.”
Mr. McGonigal and Mr. Deripaska have ties to the FBI’s investigation into accusations of collusion between the Kremlin and Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign.
In 2016, Mr. McGonigal was serving as chief of the cybercrime section at FBI headquarters. In that position, he was one of the first FBI officials to learn that a Trump campaign official bragged that Russian officials had dirt on Hillary Clinton, sparking the Trump-Russia collusion investigation known as Operation Crossfire Hurricane.
As FBI director, James B. Comey later promoted Mr. McGonigal to oversee counterintelligence operations in New York.
Mr. McGonigal is the fourth major FBI official who helped lead the Trump-Russia collusion probe to face criminal charges or end up under investigation.
“This is a disturbing trend of illegal activity by the intel analysts/leadership agents who ‘investigated’ me,” said George Papadopoulos, an adviser for Mr. Trump’s campaign who was part of the Russia collusion probe.
Mr. Papadopoulos pleaded guilty in 2017 to lying to the FBI to conceal his contacts with Russians and Russian intermediaries during the presidential campaign. He was sentenced to 14 days in prison.
Some on the other side of the Russia collusion probe have faced their own legal jeopardy in the matter.
Former FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith pleaded guilty to doctoring an email that FBI officials used to justify secret surveillance of Carter Page, a Trump campaign adviser. Mr. Clinesmith was sentenced to 12 months of probation.
FBI supervisory agent Curtis Heide testified in federal court last year that the bureau is conducting an internal review into suspected misconduct, including improperly handling a surveillance warrant, during the Trump-Russia investigation.
Mr. Heide said he is under investigation for potentially withholding exculpatory information from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which oversees wiretaps against Americans. The material in question was a “recording from one of the subjects,” Mr. Heide said without revealing further information.
The Justice Department inspector general, the agency’s internal watchdog, referred former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe for criminal investigation after investigators concluded that he lied four times while being questioned about an improper leak to journalists.
Prosecutors declined to file criminal charges against Mr. McCabe.
Mr. Deripaska, an aluminum magnate who is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, had ties to Paul Manafort, who briefly served as Mr. Trump’s campaign manager. Mr. Manafort was indebted to Mr. Deripaska. Court filings in Mr. Manafort’s 2018 financial fraud trial said he tried to leverage his role in Mr. Trump’s campaign to resolve his debts with Mr. Deripaska.
The Trump administration in 2018 sanctioned Mr. Deripaska with two dozen oligarchs and Kremlin officials tied to Mr. Putin.
At the time, the Treasury Department said the sanctions were for “having acted or purported to act for on behalf of, directly or indirectly, a senior official of the Government of the Russian Federation.”
An indictment filed in New York federal court accuses Mr. McGonigal of accepting payments from the Russian oligarch that directly violated those sanctions.
Mr. McGonigal was arrested Saturday at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York upon returning from Sri Lanka, according to court records.
In New York, Mr. McGonical was charged with a court interpreter, Sergey Shestakov, who also worked with Mr. Deripaska. After leaving the FBI, Mr. McGonigal worked for Mr. Deripaska through a law firm that represented the Russian billionaire.
As prosecutors tell it, Mr. McGonigal and Mr. Shestakov agreed in 2021 to investigate one of Mr. Deripaska’s rivals in exchange for payments. Both defendants are accused of receiving payments through shell companies and forging signatures to keep Mr. Deripaska’s payments secret.
Mr. McGonigal made at least $25,000 as an investigator for the law firm before directly working for Mr. Deripaska. He received an initial payment of $51,000 and then payments of $41,790 each month for three months from August 2021 to November 2021, the indictment said.
Prosecutors said Mr. McGonigal concealed his ties to the Russian oligarch by telling friends he was working for a “rich Russian guy” and stressed that his work was legal. In conversations about Mr. Deripaska, he would try to keep his employer’s identity a secret by referring to him as “the big guy” and “you know whom.”
Mr. Shesktaov, 69, who is a Connecticut resident, is also accused of lying to FBI investigators in November 2021 about his ties to Mr. Deripaska. He faces an additional count of making false statements.
• Jeff Mordock can be reached at email@example.com.
Copyright © 2023 The Washington Times, LLC.
Please read our comment policy before commenting.