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Charges Against Ex-Top Agent Fuel Criticism of FBI From Politicians

Alexandra Fokina had just wrapped up a dream internship. “I was involved in crazy, but insanely interesting and difficult matters,” the Russian student wrote on Facebook in 2018. “The work experience in the field of counterterrorism turned out to be something absolutely new and unique. The briefings, the conversations, and of course the endless pages of analysis.” Fokina might never have secured the job and what investigators in an indictment called “VIP treatment” without help from a high-level connection: Charles McGonigal, the agent in charge of counterintelligence for the FBI’s New York field office, reports the Washington Post. In January, McGonigal was indicted on federal charges of money laundering, violating U.S. sanctions and making false statements, stemming in part from interventions on Fokina’s behalf. McGonigal is one of the most senior FBI officials ever charged with criminal offenses, and his case has deeply concerned national security professionals, given the extraordinary access he had to sensitive government secrets.

A 22-year agent, McGonigal was the top spy hunter in a city crawling with foreign agents and one of the most powerful officials in federal law enforcement. Earlier in 2018, a Russian associate allegedly asked McGonigal to help secure a New York police internship for Fokina on behalf of her father, Yevgeny Fokin. Prosecutors said Fokin had been “rumored in public media reports to be a Russian intelligence officer.” Fokin matches the description of “Agent-1,” who would allegedly work with McGonigal to assist his boss, Oleg Deripaska, a notorious Russian mogul and ally of President Vladimir Putin. The Justice Department alleges that after he retired from the FBI in 2018 at age 50, McGonigal was paid tens of thousands of dollars to illegally help lift U.S. sanctions that had been imposed on Deripaska in 2018. Since McGonigal’s arrest, critics have seized on his case as evidence of their views of the FBI. For some, the affair confirms that the bureau is the vanguard of a corrupt deep state that former president Trump has said was out to get him. Others see dark suggestions of Russian influence at the highest levels of the U.S. government, even a tool used by forces in the FBI to help elect Trump in 2016. McGonigal’s indictment comes at a time of FBI vulnerability. Critics point to the case as further evidence of serious problems at the bureau. That will put the FBI politically on the defensive, under attack from some lawmakers who allege that it has abused its powers for political ends.


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