Former FBI agent charged with violating sanctions against Russia, aiding oligarch

A former senior FBI official will appear in a federal court, but not as an investigator or a government witness. Charlie McGonigal is charged with hiding $225,000 he received from a former Albanian intelligence officer while he was still with the FBI. McGonigal is also accused of money laundering and violating Russian sanctions. Retired FBI agent Frank Montoya joined Nick Schifrin to discuss.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Tomorrow, a former senior FBI official will appear in federal court in Washington, but not as an investigator or a government witness.

    Nick Schifrin examines the extremely rare case of an American counterintelligence official who is charged with committing the very violations that for two decades he swore to prosecute.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Charlie McGonigal had a 22-year career in the FBI and by the end held one of the government's most senior and most trusted counterintelligence jobs.

    When he retired in 2018, he ran counterintelligence in the New York FBI field office, and had played a key role in some of the U.S.' most sensitive investigations, including Russian intelligence activities in the U.S. before, during, and after the 2016 election and Chinese efforts to shut down U.S. spies.

    But he was arrested by the very agency where he spent his career. In New York, McGonigal is charged with hiding $225,000 he received from a former Albanian intelligence officer, while McGonigal was still inside the FBI. And, in Washington, McGonigal is charged with money laundering and violating Russian sanctions. He's alleged after he left the FBI to have accepted secret payments from the very Russian oligarch he had investigated, Oleg Deripaska, who has Kremlin ties and is sanctioned for his role in Russia's 2016 election interference.

    To talk about this, we turned to Frank Montoya, who retired from the FBI as special agent in charge in the Seattle office and from 2012 to 2014 was the U.S. government's top counterintelligence official.

    Frank Montoya, thanks very much. Welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    You call Charlie McGonigal a friend. How shocking is this?

  • Frank Montoya, Jr., Former FBI Official:

    I still am having a hard time processing it.

    We had worked closely together on a lot of stuff. And to hear this come out is — it really has kind of shaken me to my foundations.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    I had two former senior officials telling me today that this will force the FBI and the intelligence community as a whole to reexamine all of the work that he did.

    And I just laid out how sensitive his work was. How significant is that?

  • Frank Montoya, Jr.:

    It's significant in the sense that he was in this kind of work for a long time. It's prudent as well to just have to go through everything that he was involved in or that he touched because of the nature of his relationships that are alleged and charged in these indictments.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The indictments, of course, only have what the Justice Department can prove or thinks it can prove beyond a reasonable doubt.

    But the former officials telling me that there are concerns that go beyond the indictments. For example, did he pull his punches while he was still in the FBI, even perhaps whether he endangered any kind of human sources? Are those the concerns?

  • Frank Montoya, Jr.:

    Absolutely.

    The other part of this is, if he had some kind of relationship with these Russian — well, the Russian oligarch or anyone associated with the Russian intelligence services, how were they modifying his behavior? How were they doing things that could have affected his judgment in cases either involving these individuals or folks that they were associated with?

    So, there are many different ways that he could have been manipulated, if, in fact, these allegations are true, or that could have altered his judgment when it came to deciding who he was going to go after and who he was not going to go after.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And I guess in that case, one of the main questions will be how old, what's the origin of his relationship, specifically with Deripaska, right?

  • Frank Montoya, Jr.:

    Absolutely.

    And I want to stress that you're innocent — we're all innocent until proven guilty in this country. The seriousness is exacerbated by the fact that there Deripaska is not only an oligarch, but he's a sanctioned oligarch. Plus, he's also got what the FBI and many in the intelligence community believes are very significant connections, not only to the Russian intelligence services, but to Vladimir Putin himself and that inner circle.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Is there concern today, do you believe, that this is — that this goes beyond these two cases that we have laid out, that this could jeopardize a larger portion of the U.S. counterintelligence effort?

  • Frank Montoya, Jr.:

    They're going to have to be very, very careful now about whether or not that there is — there is any deception, being aimed at them by the Russian intelligence services, by individuals associated with Deripaska or even other oligarchs or even the Kremlin itself.

    So, they're going to have to — they're going to have to weigh very carefully what they're doing against what happened here. And I hope, from worst-case scenario perspectives, that if there is something to these allegations and these indictments, that it was limited in scope, as opposed to having that kind of wholesale impact on counterintelligence efforts, not just in the United States, but in the West in general.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The FBI, as you well know, has extensive trip wires to catch these kinds of cases.

    Do we know yet whether this was a case of those trip wires not being implemented, or if there's a gap?

  • Frank Montoya, Jr.:

    You look at the indictments, there are a number of instances where he is talking to individuals inside the bureau, whether they were supervisors or other employees.

    But that is a challenge. Trip wires are only as good as the people that are watching them. But, at the same time, you're working in a position of trust. And everyone is in that — inside that circle of trust. And so you just don't expect people to violate that trust. And that's why it is a shock. That's why it shocks people like down to our core, because we just don't expect these kinds of things to happen.

    We believe that we're working in a circle of folks that are — that are trustworthy, that are upholding their oath, that have the interests of their country first and foremost in their minds. And so, yes, the trip wires are there. But, at the same time, human beings are very adept at overcoming or circling around those trip wires.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Frank Montoya, thank you very much.

  • Frank Montoya, Jr.:

    You bet. Thank you.

Listen to this Segment