An ex-Russian diplomat charged alongside a former top FBI counterintelligence chief for illegal dealings with Russia has asked a federal judge to prohibit documents or evidence in the case from becoming public.
Lawyers for Sergey Shestakov say the slew of media articles about the case is “highly prejudicial” because they link him to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Moscow’s broader intelligence efforts. Mr. Shestakov’s lawyers deny that he has ties to Mr. Putin or Russian intelligence.
Some of the articles relied on anonymous sources purported to be current or former law enforcement or intelligence officials.
“Publicly implying that Mr. Shestakov deliberately and willfully aligned himself with the Kremlin, Vladimir Putin and corrupt and violent actions — which was not true, is incendiary and served to grossly prejudice Mr. Shestakov to the world and jury pool,” Mr. Shestakov’s lawyer, Rita Galvin, wrote in a court filing.
In addition to the news articles, several notable politicians have spoken about the case. Both House Republicans and Senate Democrats have each opened an investigation into Mr. Shestakov’s co-defendant, former FBI official Charles McGonigal.
Mr. McGonigal previously was involved in the FBI‘s investigation of allegations of Trump-Russia collusion, which were ultimately debunked.
He is also the highest-ranking FBI official ever to be charged with a crime and the fourth major FBI official who helped lead the Trump-Russia probe to face criminal charges or end up under investigation.
In 2016, Mr. McGonigal was serving as chief of the cybercrime section at FBI headquarters. In that position, he was one of the first FBI officials to learn that a Trump campaign official bragged that Russian officials had dirt on Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, sparking the Trump-Russia collusion investigation known as Operation Crossfire Hurricane.
In a letter sent to U.S. District Judge Jennifer Reardon, who is based in Manhattan, Mr. Shestakov’s lawyers say all the abundance of scrutiny by news media and politicians could prejudice a jury.
“There is no question that this case will continue to garner intense public scrutiny. Accordingly, Mr. Shestakov’s right to a fair trial with an unbiased jury pool is of paramount concern,” Ms. Galvin wrote.
Ms. Galvin said the court should impose a provision that would require both sides to keep track of prospective witnesses and if they disclose any material to whom it was leaked. It would also require prosecutors to provide any prospective witnesses with a copy of the protective order.
She wrote the provision will “discourage leaks and allow for a targeted inquiry in case an improper disclosure occurs.”
Mr. McGonigal and Mr. Shestakov were charged last month with taking secret payments from Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska in exchange for investigating a rival oligarch.
As prosecutors tell it, Mr. McGonigal and Mr. Shestakov agreed in 2021 to investigate one of Mr. Deripaska’s rivals in exchange for payments. Both defendants are accused of receiving payments through shell companies and forging signatures to keep Mr. Deripaska’s payments secret.
The defendants are charged with conspiring to violate U.S. sanctions and money laundering. Mr. Shesktaov is also accused of lying to the FBI about his ties to Mr. Deripaska and faces an additional count of making false statements.
Mr. Deripaska, an aluminum magnate, also played a role in the Trump-Russia investigation. He had ties to Paul Manafort, who briefly served as Mr. Trump’s campaign chairman. Mr. Manafort was indebted to Mr. Deripaska. Court filings in Mr. Manafort’s 2018 financial fraud trial said he tried to leverage his role in Mr. Trump’s campaign to resolve his debts with Mr. Deripaska.
The Trump administration in 2018 sanctioned Mr. Deripaska with two dozen oligarchs and Kremlin officials tied to Mr. Putin.