Before writing anything further here, please excuse any saltiness in my take. Full disclosure: I pleaded guilty to failing to register under the Foreign Agent Registration Act of 1938 in charges brought by then special counsel Robert Mueller. So yes, I have an opinion, but I’ll try to stick to the facts:
In bringing charges against former FBI senior counterintelligence officer Charles McGonigal related to his alleged business relationship with Russian “oligarch” Oleg Deripaska, the U.S. Department of Justice is again signaling some willingness to address the tangled web of conflicting interests, mass projection of its own sins on others, and outright lies that came to be known as “Russia-gate.”
After a week of hand-over-fist revelations that the President of the United States appears to have committed the very same breaches of national security law with which a special counsel is now preparing to charge his predecessor, news about the McGonigal indictments might not elicit so much as a yawn. But there’s a lot to unpack, and it’s important that we do, because McGonigal’s fate is intertwined with so many of the false narratives that have driven breathless nightly news reports for almost a decade.
Beginning with former Attorney General Bill Barr’s 2020 appointment of John Durham as special counsel, the Justice Department started looking openly at the possibility malfeasance lay at the core of Russia-gate. Durham brought charges against Michael Sussman, an FBI lawyer who admitted to doctoring a FISA warrant application for Trump campaign aide Carter Page. Sussman was a lawyer for Hillary Clinton who, Durham charged, lied to FBI counsel James Baker about having no client interest on the phony dime he was dropping on Trump, and a Russian-American “analyst” employed by Christopher Steele to fabricate a case against Trump. (If Baker sounds familiar, you might be remembering him from his role coordinating government censorship as a high-ranking employee at Twitter.)
Beltway juries acquitted both Sussmann and Steele dossier “source” Igor Danchenko in large part because their defense teams highlighted so many ways in which the FBI itself had bungled the handling of the matter. Yet if you read the indictments of either man, you will see prosecutors using worlds like “conspiracy” and “Hillary Clinton” in the same sentences. To be clear, the juries did not absolve these men of lying – rather they determined the lies were “immaterial.” While left-wing journalists eagerly reported acquittals, the fact is the Sussman and Danchenko trials revealed that a Clinton lawyer conspired with a British spy and a Russian operative to plant the seed that would become Russia-gate, a years long saga that dogged President Trump’s presidential campaign and resulted in endless harassment.
The McGonigal indictments break new ground in efforts to discern what really happened at the root of these investigations. The Russian whom he’s accused of taking money from is currently under U.S. sanctions and has had difficulties obtaining a U.S. visa for years. To say that the relationship between Deripaska and the FBI is complicated would be an understatement. It’s not just McGonigal who has ties to Deripaska. Former FBI Director Robert Mueller – who went on to be appointed special counsel to investigate allegations of Trump-Russia collusion – reportedly persuaded Deripaska to spend some $25 million researching whether FBI contractor and Iranian prisoner Robert Levinson was still alive and could be freed.
More recently, associate attorney general Bruce Ohr interviewed Deripaska about former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort in New York at the height of the Russia-gate probes and when Deripaska scoffed at the idea Manafort could be a Russian agent, Ohr instructed him to “keep an open mind.” Meanwhile, Ohr’s wife, Nellie, worked at the opposition research firm Fusion GPS, which was actively pushing the Trump-Russia collusion case. To make things even more complicated, fabulist Christopher Steele had previously worked for Deripaska as well.
If you never heard Rachel Maddow breathlessly reporting on these facts, it’s not your fault. Throughout the manufactured scandal, mainstream media sources took their talking points from well-funded “watchdog groups” that actively promoted the Russia-gate narrative. And remember the narrative: It’s former President Trump who has all these shady connections to Russians that must be investigated. Not the Clinton campaign. And certainly not the FBI. If you question this, you’re just a Putin Stooge!
Fourteen months ago, the FBI raided properties reportedly belonging to Deripaska in Washington and New York, most likely in an effort to find out who else was on his payroll. That would explain the McDonigal indictment.
But Deripaska’s ties to senior U.S. officials go further still.
Virginia Senator Mark Warner, a Democrat who currently chairs the Senate Select Intelligence Committee (SSCI), exchanged a series of texts throughout 2017 with Deripaska’s U.S. lawyer, Adam Waldman. Waldman, the texts suggest, was a close associate of the investigating senator. At the time, the SSCI angrily denounced House Republicans on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) for leaking the texts, in which Warner was seeking to get Steele to testify.
Another Warner favorite was former Dianne Feinstein staffer Dan Jones, who left the SSCI to head the Democracy Integrity Project, which in turn hired Fusion GPS. Confused yet? Jones’ contacts with former colleagues on the SSCI staff were never disclosed publicly, and it remains unclear whether investigators ever in fact bothered to review them.
Then a fellow named James Wolfe, the chief of security for the SSCI, to whom I voluntarily hand-delivered 1,000 pages of printed out production at the committee’s request in late 2017, lied to the FBI about his romantic relations with a BuzzFeed/New York Times reporter thirty years his junior. Warner signed a letter to Wolfe’s sentencing judge demanding leniency.
Warner’s House counterpart, Adam Schiff (D-Hollywood), has recently been lambasted over his efforts, exposed in the Twitter files, to silence investigative journalism about this process at the time. Once celebrated for his tough talk against Trump, Schiff has lost all credibility, even among Maddow-watching leftists. Nonetheless, he continues to insist on grand conspiracies, despite almost every thing he said about the Russia collusion narrative turning up false.
Even at its outset, the Mueller probe faced serious blows to its credibility when texts between FBI senior counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page were disclosed. Strzok, who was carrying on an extramarital affair with Page at the time, boasted to her in the texts that he would “stop” Trump from becoming president. It was a sickening display of deep state arrogance that shocked the nation. Mueller had to fire Strzok, because he’d expressed such clear bias against investigation subject Trump and subverted the integrity of the investigation. Then, notes from Strzok’s interview with then-National Security Advisor Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn surfaced with a clear, pre-meditated intent to get Flynn to lie.
Ultimately, Mueller concluded there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Some of the narratives key political proponents – like California Senator Dianne Feinstein and Congressman Eric Swalwell – have been reported to have been in actually compromising relationships with China and its intelligence services.
In today’s light, very little of the underlying “facts” about the multiple Russia investigations of the 2016-19 period hold up. Christopher Steele made things up out of whole cloth, we learned only after the Russian bank Alfa successfully sued him for defamation in UK courts. After these findings of fact, U.S. justice officials came under new pressure to review the tainted sources and the way in which they drove the partisan probes in our own country. From the very beginning, the entire Russia-gate saga was driven by self-serving partisan operatives who couched themselves in patriotic rhetoric.
That a senior FBI official was reportedly working for Deripaska is not becoming to the bureau, but also not surprising. Remember, it was Bruce Ohr who told the Russian magnate to “keep an open mind.” Likely there is more to come.
Just for laughs, here’s a video we found of Charles McGonigal, the FBI agent who investigated Trump for ties to Russia who now has been indicted for being a likely tool of the Russians, talking at a Foreign Policy Association panel on… Foreign Influence Operations and Counterintelligence.