Conflict of Interest? Mueller's FBI Has a History With Russian Oligarch Oleg Deripaska
New concerns have been raised regarding a possible conflict of interest in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia collusion probe, involving a Russian oligarch, the FBI, and its failed attempt to get him to assist in the investigation.
Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska is a name that pops up from time to time in the collusion narrative, though it has been conspicuously absent from Mueller’s indictments. Now, a new report published at The Hill by investigative reporter John Solomon could help explain why: Deripaska has a history of working with Mueller's FBI.
According to Solomon's sources, the Bureau in 2009 asked the oligarch to spend millions of his own dollars to fund an FBI-supervised operation to rescue retired FBI agent Robert Levinson, who was captured in Iran while working for the CIA in 2007. The sources include more than a dozen participants inside and outside the FBI, the Levinson family, a retired agent who supervised the case, Deripaska's lawyer, and Deripaska himself.
“We knew he was paying for his team helping us, and that probably ran into the millions,” a U.S. official involved in the operation confirmed:
One agent who helped court Deripaska was Andrew McCabe, the recently fired FBI deputy director who played a seminal role starting the Trump-Russia case, multiple sources confirmed.
Deripaska’s lawyer said the Russian ultimately spent $25 million assembling a private search and rescue team that worked with Iranian contacts under the FBI’s watchful eye. Photos and videos indicating Levinson was alive were uncovered.
FBI officials told Solomon that the mission was hampered by Hillary Clinton's State Department. Deripaska had his visa revoked by the State Department in 2006 amid concerns about his links to organized crime, which he has denied:
“We tried to turn over every stone we could to rescue Bob, but every time we started to get close, the State Department seemed to always get in the way,” said Robyn Gritz, the retired agent who supervised the Levinson case in 2009, when Deripaska first cooperated, but who left for another position in 2010 before the Iranian offer arrived. “I kept Director Mueller and Deputy Director [John] Pistole informed of the various efforts and operations, and they offered to intervene with State, if necessary.”
FBI officials ended the operation in 2011, concerned that Deripaska’s Iranian contacts couldn’t deliver with all the U.S. infighting. Levinson was never found; his whereabouts remain a mystery, 11 years after he disappeared.
Some aspects of the story were chronicled in a 2016 book by reporter Barry Meier, according to Solomon.
Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz told Solomon he believes Mueller has "a conflict of interest" because of the FBI's past dealings with the Russian.
“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 said.