By Ryan Morgan
Charles McGonigal, a former FBI agent who was arrested on Monday for alleged ties to a Russian oligarch, was one of the agents who played a role in investigating now-discredited allegations of collusion between Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and the Russian government.
On Monday, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) announced it had arrested McGonigal and charged him with violating and conspiring to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) by laundering money on behalf of Oleg Deripaska, a sanctioned Russian billionaire.
Announcing the charges against McGonigal, the DOJ described McGonigal as the former special agent in charge of the FBI’s New York Counterintelligence Division before he retired in 2018.
The DOJ statement also said that while working with the FBI, McGonigal supervised and participated in investigations of Russian oligarchs, including Deripaska.
FBI records show that McGonigal served as the section chief of the Cyber-Counterintelligence Coordination Section at FBI Headquarters before being reassigned to the New York Counterintelligence Division in October of 2016.
What the DOJ statement didn’t mention was that McGonigal was involved in the FBI’s investigations into Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign advisers Carter Page and George Papadopoulos.
Messages released by the then-Republican-controlled Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee in 2018 showed that FBI agent Peter Strzok communicated with McGonigal about the investigation involving Trump campaign members.
During a meeting with The Washington Post editorial board, Trump announced that Papadopoulos, who was 28 years old at the time, had joined his 2016 presidential campaign in May of 2016 as a foreign policy advisor.
In April of 2016, Papadopoulos met with Joseph Mifsud, a Maltese professor. Mifsud allegedly told Papadopoulos that he had information that the Russians have “dirt” on Trump’s 2016 opponent, Hillary Clinton, in the form of “thousands of emails.”
On July 28, 2016, while McGonigal served as the section chief of the Cyber-Counterintelligence Coordination Section at FBI Headquarters, the section received information from a Friendly Foreign Government (FFG) source that Papadopoulos “suggested the Trump team had received some kind of suggestion from Russia that it could assist … with the anonymous release of information during the campaign that would be damaging to [Hillary] Clinton (and President Obama).”
Shortly after receiving this claim, the FBI initiated an investigation it called “Crossfire Hurricane,” which looked into claims of coordination between Trump’s campaign and the Russian government.
FBI agents interviewed Papadopoulos in January 2017 about potential ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. The FBI arrested Papadopoulos in July 2017 on allegations that he lied about meeting with Mifsud before joining the Trump campaign, when the pair in fact met within half a month of his appointment.
The DOJ alleged that Papadopoulos knew Mifsud had extensive ties to Russian intelligence. Papadopoulos ultimately plead guilty to lying to the FBI, and served 12 days in prison for the offense.
While prosecutors in Papadopoulos’ case contended that Mifsud was connected to Russia, other open-source information suggests that Mifsud had ties to Western intelligence and the FBI. This is also what Papadopoulos said he believed to be true the time of meeting.
In addition to his section’s involvement in the investigation into Papadopoulos, McGonigal also had some involvement in the FBI investigation of Page, another foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign.
Strzok texted McGonigal on at least one occasion on Jan. 6, 2017, according to text messages released by Senate Republicans. The pair may have had other conversations that remain redacted. In that message, Strzok wrote, “This re holding copy of report for Trump people? If not, need to talk to you, too.”
It’s not clear what Strzok was referencing in the message.
“Our Team is currently talking to [Carter Page] re Russia,” McGonigal also reportedly wrote in another March 16, 2017, text message to another FBI employee, the Washington Free Beacon reported.
During the 2016 Trump campaign, Page was the subject of a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant, which allowed the DOJ to monitor his communications. In their FISA application, the DOJ alleged that Page was “collaborating and conspiring with the Russian government” and had been the subject of past Russian intelligence recruiting efforts. The DOJ subsequently extended its FISA surveillance warrant against Page multiple times.
Page has denied working with the Russian government and has never been charged in connection with the investigations into the Trump campaign.
In 2020, FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith was charged with falsifying records used to obtain a FISA warrant extension against Page. He pleaded guilty to the charge and was sentenced in January 2021 to probation for the offence.
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