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Senator Demands Answers from DOJ on Ex-FBI Counterintel Chief Allegedly on Russian Oligarch’s Payroll

Charles McGonigal

Charles McGonigal, former special agent in charge of the FBI’s counterintelligence division in New York, leaves court, Monday, Jan. 23, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

The head of the Senate Judiciary Committee pressed the Department of Justice for answers about former FBI official Charles McGonigal, who led counterintelligence for the bureau’s New York office before being charged with violating U.S. sanctions.

Now under federal indictment, McGonigal stands accused of illicit dealings with sanctioned Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, a prominent figure in special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s report.

“These allegations are extremely disturbing and raise concerns about the potential impact this misconduct may have had on the FBI’s counterintelligence matters and criminal investigations,” Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) wrote in a three-page letter on Thursday.

McGonigal, 54, worked in Russian counterintelligence, organized crime matters and counter-espionage during his more than 20-year career with the FBI. He spent two of those years as the Special Agent in Charge (SAC) of the Counterintelligence Division of the FBI’s New York Field Office, from 2016 until his retirement.

“As a SAC for the New York Field Office, Mr. McGonigal oversaw many sensitive counterintelligence investigations, including investigations involving individuals he has now been accused of working to benefit,” Durbin’s letter states. “Mr. Deripaska was central to Paul Manafort’s ties to Russia, and the FBI New York Field Office used the former Albanian intelligence agency employee as a confidential human source in a criminal investigation.”

Deripaska’s ties to Manafort, former President Donald Trump’s former campaign chair, filled the pages of the Mueller report into Russian interference in the 2020 presidential election. Deripaska’s name appears at least 64 times in that document.

According to one passage of the Mueller report, Manafort instructed his deputy Rick Gates to share campaign information with suspected Russian intelligence operative Konstantin Kilimnik, expecting that the information would be shared with Deripaska.

For Durbin, those ties raise a number of questions. He asked Attorney General Merrick Garland and FBI director Christopher Wray what role, “if any,” McGonigal played in the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane investigation into links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign. The senator also wants to know whether McGonigal played any role in the Mueller investigation, how many counterintelligence investigations McGonigal oversaw, and how many of those investigations allegedly involved people he sought to benefit.

“The Committee remains in the dark on the true extent to which Mr. McGonigal’s alleged misconduct may have impacted these highly sensitive matters, including whether he compromised sensitive sources, methods, and analysis. Whether his alleged misconduct materially impacted the outcome of any investigations or further compromised our national security also remains unknown at this time,” Durbin’s letter notes.

One day before Durbin’s letter, the New York Times reported that two House Democrats — Reps. Ted Lieu of California and Dan Goldman of New York — said they were “alarmed” by the newspapers report on “possible prosecutorial misconduct” by special counsel John Durham, who looked into the origins of the Russia investigation. Two cases charged by Durham collapsed last year, with acquittals by separate juries, and the Times article described internal dissent in Durham’s office based on interviews with more than a dozen current and former officials.

Durbin, who was not a signatory to that letter, also vowed to hold oversight hearings on the Durham matter.

Read Durbin’s letter below:

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Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on NewsNation, NBC, MSNBC, CBS's "Inside Edition," BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks. His reporting on the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell was featured on the Starz and Channel 4 documentary "Who Is Ghislaine Maxwell?" He is the host of Law&Crime podcast "Objections: with Adam Klasfeld."