Who is Charles McGonigal?

The former head of the FBI’s counterintelligence bureau, Charles McGonigal, has been arrested. He is charged with taking money from a Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska. According to the Justice Department indictment, Deripaska was originally sanctioned for “for having acted or purported to act on behalf of, directly or indirectly, a senior official of the Government of the Russian Federation.”

McGonigal received the money in breach of the 2014 sanctions regime. He is also charged with money laundering. According to American ABC, “After leaving the FBI, McGonigal subsequently worked for Deripaska through a law firm representing the Russian oil tycoon,” and was allegedly paid a retainer.

Early US news reports suggest the payments were in exchange for lobbying to have Deripaska removed from the US sanctions list. McGonigal was supervising investigations of Russian oligarchs at that time, including Deripaska.

It appears McGonigal is in serious trouble, with the charges against him carrying maximum prison terms of 20 years. But in the broader picture, his role of chief of counterintelligence in New York, to which he was appointed in October 2016, would seem far more significant.

Prior to October, McGonigal was section chief for cyber counterintelligence. The Russian social media-led influence campaign during the 2016 election thus fell directly within his remit, at the very same time he was involved with Deripaska.

After his promotion in October, he watched the investigation into the Trump campaign proceed with a focus on personal connections between Trump’s campaign team and Russia. As Ukraine expert Timothy Snyder points out, “The FBI did investigate cyber later, and came to some correct conclusions. But this was after the election…The cyber element is what McGonigal should have been making everyone aware of in 2016.”

So watch this space. The case against McGonigal may lead to further revelations about the depth of the Russian influence campaign during Trump’s election. 

Follow Christian on Twitter for more news updates.

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