Craig Unger is described on Wikipedia as “an American journalist and writer. He has served as deputy editor of The New York Observer and was editor-in-chief of Boston Magazine. He has written about George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush for The New Yorker, Esquire Magazine, and Vanity Fair.” That is all accurate, but it’s an understatement.
Unger is one of the most fearless, uncompromising journalists around. To give but one example, he was one of the few writers who meaningfully followed up on questions about why President George W. Bush arranged for members of the Saudi royal family and their entourages to leave the United States on secret flights in the aftermath of 9/11.
Unger has also been relentless in following up on the many ways that Donald Trump and his family have likely been used (and probably blackmailed) by the Russians, and how Trump over the years has assiduously cultivated ties to the FBI in New York and Washington — and how those circumstances have now likely led to an FBI scandal of mammoth proportions:
In the course of writing two books on Donald Trump’s ties to Russia, the same question occurred to me again and again: How is it possible that I knew all sorts of stuff about Donald Trump, and the FBI didn’t seem to have a clue? Or if they did, why weren’t they doing anything with it?
Specifically, I knew that:
Starting in 1980, an alleged “spotter agent” for the KGB began cultivating Trump as a new asset for Soviet intelligence.
The Russian mafia laundered millions of dollars through Donald Trump’s real estate by purchasing condos in all-cash transactions through anonymous corporations that did not disclose real ownership.
Trump Tower was a home away from home for Vyacheslav Ivankov, one of the most brutal leaders of the Russian mafia, and at least 13 people with known or alleged links to the mafia held the deeds to, lived in, or ran alleged criminal operations out of Trump Tower in New York or other Trump properties.
Trump was some $4 billion in debt when the Russians came to bail him out via the Bayrock Group, a real estate firm that was largely staffed, owned, and financed by Soviet émigrés who had ties to Russian intelligence and/or organized crime.
Much of my material came from FBI documents. A lot came from open-source databases. It made no sense. There was an astounding amount of data on the public record. The FBI had launched enormous investigations of the Russian mafia in the 1980s. They had staked out a New York electronics store that was a haven for KGB officers. They knew that’s where the Trump Organization bought hundreds of TV sets. They had their eyes on Ivankov and other Russian mobsters who were denizens of Trump’s casinos and bought and sold his condos through shell companies.
They had to know that Trump laundered money for and provided a base of operations for the Russian mafia, which was, after all, a de facto state actor tied to Russian intelligence. They had to know that the Russians repeatedly bailed Trump out when he was bankrupt. They had to know that Russia owned him.
I’m well aware of the strict secrecy that accompanies ongoing investigations as a matter of procedure. But once the Mueller Report was finally released, it became crystal clear that Robert Mueller’s investigation dealt only with criminal matters, not counterintelligence. Trump had been thoroughly compromised by Russia and was a grave threat to national security. But the FBI wasn’t doing anything about it!
One reason for that may have been that on far too many occasions, FBI men in sensitive positions ended up on the take from the very people they were supposed to be investigating. And on January 23, a bomb dropped: We learned that the latest of these is Charles McGonigal, the former head of counterintelligence for the FBI in New York, who ended up working for billionaire oligarch Oleg Deripaska, a major target in the Trump Russia investigation. McGonigal was indicted in Manhattan on charges of money laundering, violating U.S. sanctions, and other counts relating to his alleged ties to Deripaska. He was also indicted in Washington, where he was accused of concealing $225,000 he allegedly received from a New Jersey man employed long ago by Albanian intelligence.
Nevertheless, Trump appears to have gotten exactly what he sought. As it happens, Kallstrom worked closely with McGonigal and cultivated friendships not just with Trump but also with Rudy Giuliani. Together, they are suspected of being party to an internal campaign just before the 2016 election that spurred FBI Director James Comey to publicly announce he was reopening his investigation into Clinton’s emails.
Ultimately, of course, America found out that none of Hillary’s emails were classified. The Times story on the subject was misleading at best. The “reopened” investigation was short-lived and appeared to reflect the wishful thinking of the pro-Trump leaker in the bureau, whether it was McGonigal or someone else. Likewise, the Times headline declaring “no link” between Trump and Russia seemed to reflect wishful thinking on the parts of Kallstrom, Giuliani, and McGonigal—not reality.
But the damage had already been done. When voters cast their ballots on November 8, they thought that the FBI had given Trump a clean bill of health but was still investigating Hillary. McGonigal and company may well have made the difference in tipping the election to Trump.
Republicans have used the alleged lack of an indictment in the FBI’s Trump-Russia investigation as proof that the Democrats’ suspicions about Trump are unfounded and politically-motivated, Now it turns out that the FBI investigation may have been derailed by an FBI leader who has a vested interest in making sure that Trump’s unsavory connections to Russia never saw the light of day.
Let’s hope the government re-opens the investigations of Trump’s Russia entanglements since it’s clear the ones conducted by the FBI thus far were likely compromised by the Russians themselves.