The name Oleg Deripaska isn’t familiar to too many people in the West, but he’s one of Russia’s richest and most powerful businessmen. He also remained unmentioned in Robert Mueller’s indictment of Paul Manafort, despite the fact that he was linked to the former Trump campaign manager.
In 2009, Deripaska played a very different role for the FBI when it was under Mueller’s directorship: He was tasked with freeing a U.S. spy who was in Iranian custody.
According to an account by The Hill’s John Solomon published Monday, that wasn’t the last time Deripaska would play an important role for the FBI. In 2016, they asked the oligarch about possible collusion between President Donald Trump and Russian interests. Instead of confirming what they thought, he told them they were “trying to create something out of nothing.”
Now, Deripaska’s prior connections with Mueller and the FBI are raising some very serious questions about the FBI’s surveillance of the Trump campaign.
The saga of Deripaska began in 2009, when the FBI’s Andrew McCabe helped bring the Russian oligarch into the fold to help try and rescue Robert Levinson, a CIA contractor who was captured as he traveled to an Iranian island to meet an American fugitive in an attempt to turn him into an informant.
“The FBI had three reasons for choosing Deripaska for a mission worthy of a spy novel,” Solomon wrote.
“First, his aluminum empire had business in Iran. Second, the FBI wanted a foreigner to fund the operation because spending money in Iran might violate U.S. sanctions and other laws. Third, agents knew Deripaska had been banished since 2006 from the United States by State over reports he had ties to organized crime and other nefarious activities. He denies the allegations, and nothing was ever proven in court.”
“Deripaska’s efforts came very close to success,” said David McGee, a former federal prosecutor who currently represents Levinson’s family.
“We were told at one point that the terms of Levinson’s release had been agreed to by Iran and the U.S. and included a statement by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pointing a finger away from Iran. At the last minute, Secretary Clinton decided not to make the agreed-on statement.”
Levinson remains missing 11 years after he disappeared. Amid internecine conflicts within the U.S. government, Deripaska’s role and the active attempts to free Levinson ended in 2011.
Fast forward to 2016, when the FBI had convinced itself that the Trump campaign had colluded with the Kremlin. Just two months before the election, Deripaska was in New York City as part of the Russian delegation to the the United Nations General Assembly.
Adam Waldman, a lawyer who represented Deripaska until the oligarch was hit with U.S. sanctions this April, was awakened at his home by agents who had a one-hour talk with him, during which they “posited a theory that Trump’s campaign was secretly colluding with Russia to hijack the U.S. election.”
“Deripaska laughed but realized, despite the joviality, that they were serious,” Waldman said.
“So he told them in his informed opinion the idea they were proposing was false. ‘You are trying to create something out of nothing,’ he told them.” The agents left though the FBI sought more information in 2017 from the Russian, sources tell me. Waldman declined to say if Deripaska has been in contact with the FBI since Sept. 2016.”
Here’s Solomon recounting the story on Fox News’ “The Ingraham Angle”:
“So why care about some banished Russian oligarch’s account now? Two reasons,” Solomon wrote.
“First, as the FBI prepared to get authority to surveil figures on Trump’s campaign team, did it disclose to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that one of its past Russian sources waived them off the notion of Trump-Russia collusion?” Solomon asked.
“Second, the U.S. government in April imposed sanctions on Deripaska, one of several prominent Russians targeted to punish Vladimir Putin — using the same sort of allegations that State used from 2006 to 2009. Yet, between those two episodes, Deripaska seemed good enough for the FBI to ask him to fund that multimillion-dollar rescue mission. And to seek his help on a sensitive political investigation. And to allow him into the country eight times.
“I was alerted to Deripaska’s past FBI relationship by U.S. officials who wondered whether the Russian’s conspicuous absence from Mueller’s indictments might be related to his FBI work,” Solomon added. “They aren’t the only ones.”
Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz is one of them.
“The real question becomes whether it was proper to leave (Deripaska) out of the Manafort indictment, and whether that omission was to avoid the kind of transparency that is really required by the law,” Dershowitz was quoted as saying.
This feels like roughly the 63rd different major conflict of interest that has befallen the Mueller investigation. Deripaska takes his place in the queue behind so many other ones — including ones that may yet be unrevealed, at least if the president turns out to be correct.
Now, does that mean that Mueller acted improperly in not mentioning Deripaska in the indictment, particularly since spending money in Iran via Deripaska during the Levinson mission was basically skirting U.S. sanctions on the country? Did FBI agents act improperly by not informing the FISA court of their relationship with the oligarch? More importantly, does this mean the FBI’s investigation into “Russian collusion” went far further than any of us thought?
We don’t have enough evidence to know at the moment. However, like so many other things in the Mueller investigation, the curious case of Deripaska is yet more smoke from the Mueller investigation. If only the media would do its job and investigate whether or not there’s fire.
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