By Mattathias Schwartz
federal grand jury subpoenaed records of any "payments or gifts" that
Charles McGonigal, the FBI's former head of counterintelligence in New
York, received from foreign governments.
Foreign Policy Association; iStock; Rebecca Zisser/Insider
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.
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.
While it wouldn't necessarily have been illegal for McGonigal to work on
behalf of Deripaska, failing to disclose activities covered by the
Foreign Agents Registration Act, such as lobbying and public relations,
is punishable by a $250,000 fine and up to five years in prison.
Deripaska was sanctioned
by the Treasury Department in 2018 for acting as an agent for the
Kremlin, and has been accused of ordering the murder of a businessman.
"If McGonigal is mixed up in any way shape or form with Deripaska, that
strikes me as unseemly, to put it politely," says Tim Weiner, the author
of "Enemies: A History of the FBI."
witness subpoena obtained by Insider indicates information that federal
prosecutors were seeking about former FBI official Charles McGonigal.
Neither McGonigal nor those he is cited as dealing with responded to
requests for comment from Insider. "This is not an area where we can
provide a statement at this time," a representative for Kobre & Kim
It is not clear whether McGonigal is a target of the grand-jury
investigation, or simply a subject whose activities are somehow related
to it. And there is nothing in the court documents or elsewhere to
suggest that McGonigal behaved inappropriately during the FBI's
investigation of the Trump campaign. But the materials requested in the
witness subpoena raise questions about whether a top FBI agent may have
been tapping the connections he made during his years of public service
for private gain — an all-too-common practice among Washington insiders.
And whatever McGonigal's actions, the fact that he has been swept up in
a grand-jury investigation is highly unusual. According to a former
senior official at the Justice Department who asked not to be
identified, prosecutors almost never consider charges against someone so
high up in the FBI. "It's very rare that former FBI people at all, and
certainly former senior FBI people, wind up as grand-jury targets," the
The federal scrutiny of McGonigal is especially
striking given his work at the FBI. 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.
to the witness subpoena, prosecutors are also looking into whether
McGonigal has ties to the government of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well
as any "payments or gifts" he was provided by the governments of Kosovo,
Montenegro, and Albania.
McGonigal used his official FBI letterhead to try and arrange a business meeting with Edi Rama, the prime minister of Albania.
Thierry Monasse/Getty Images
Two sources told Insider that McGonigal was close to Edi Rama, who
has served as the prime minister of Albania since 2013. According to an
email reviewed by Insider, McGonigal used his official FBI email account
to try to arrange a meeting between Rama and an American firm the prime
minister was thinking about hiring for an anti-corruption initiative.
In the end, the FBI didn't give McGonigal approval for the meeting, and
it never took place.
A representative for Rama said the prime
minister's relationship with McGonigal was "a totally private friendly
relationship of no public interest. We have no idea about any grand jury
and no US authority has ever contacted us about it. There have never
been meetings with firms, gifts, payments, travel reimbursements before
or after Mr. McGonigal left his job."
Since he left the FBI,
McGonigal has continued to trade on his expertise in
counterintelligence. In 2020, months after his reported assistance to
Deripaska's aide, he appeared on a panel
at the Atlantic Council, where he condemned the corruption of Russia's
security services. "You are seeing an erosion in any rule of law as it
relates to the FSB," he said. "It would be akin to having in the United
States the FBI as a rogue element, operating at the behest of the
profile on LinkedIn 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. But that
information, apparently, is inaccurate. "Charlie McGonigal is no
with Brookfield," Andrew Brent, Brookfield's head of communications,
told Insider. McGonigal left the company, he added, in early January
— just as witnesses were scheduled to appear before the grand jury.
Mattathias Schwartz is a senior correspondent at Insider.