How the case of arrested FBI agent Charles McGonigal is tied to a Russia-linked influence effort

How the case of arrested FBI agent Charles McGonigal is tied to a Russia-linked influence effort

Mother Jones reports:

It was shocking news: Charles McGonigal, a former counterintelligence chief for the FBI, was arrested for his alleged role in two separate schemes. In one, he purportedly accepted $225,000 from an Albanian American businessman, while he was still in the FBI, and did favors for that businessman and Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama. In the other, McGonigal, after he retired in 2018, allegedly provided investigative services to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, who was sanctioned in 2018 for assisting the global “malign” activities of Putin’s regime. McGonigal’s indictments raise a boatload of questions and has spurred the bureau to scrutinize his actions when he was in charge of monitoring and thwarting the intelligence efforts of foreign powers (including Russia) aimed at the United States. In spy-movie parlance, the FBI will want to know when did he go bad (presuming he did go bad).

The McGonigal case also has cast attention on one of the more bizarre foreign influence operations to occur in Washington, DC, in recent years—a little-known and underreported Russia-linked effort to influence American politics about Albania.

The tale of this influence operation is a complicated one that Mother Jones revealed in 2018. The main disclosure was that a mysterious shell company registered in Scotland called Biniatta Trade—which was created by two Belize companies that were partly controlled by two British companies that were each controlled by a different Russian national—paid $150,000 in early 2017 to a Washington lobbyist named Nick Muzin to promote in the United States the Democratic Party of Albania, the conservative party opposed to Rama’s government.

Muzin, who had worked on Trump’s winning presidential campaign, used his influence to gather support within the Republican Party and the US conservative movement for Lulzim Basha, the DPA leader, who was campaigning for prime minister. Muzin set up a visit to Washington for Basha that included meetings with GOP House members. Basha attended the National Republican Congressional Committee’s annual dinner, which featured Trump as the speaker. Muzin contacted Steve Bannon, then a top White House adviser, and other White House officials on Basha’s behalf. He arranged for Basha to be interviewed by Breitbart News. [Continue reading…]

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