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Virginia's Governor — a Longtime Hillary Clinton Ally — Is Under Federal Investigation

The FBI and DOJ are reportedly looking into campaign contributions that Governor Terry McAuliffe received from a Chinese businessman.

by Sarah Mimms
May 24 2016, 4:49pm

Photo by Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, a close ally of Bill and Hillary Clinton, is reportedly under investigation by the FBI and the Department of Justice (DOJ) over campaign contributions he received from a Chinese businessman.

The inquiry is based, at least in part, on donations that McAuliffe received during his 2013 gubernatorial campaign, according to CNN, which broke the news of the investigation on Monday. Investigators are said to be scrutinizing a $120,000 donation from Chinese businessman Wang Wenliang, among other campaign contributions. Wenliang has permanent residency status in the US, a spokesperson told CNN.

The FBI has also examined McAuliffe's role on the board of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), a charitable foundation that Bill Clinton started after he exited the White House in 2000. The Clintons are longtime friends of the governor, and they both backed him during his 2013 campaign. Wenliang has also donated to CGI, but CNN quoted US officials briefed on the investigation as saying they have found no evidence of wrongdoing by the foundation.

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McAuliffe's attorney Marc Elias told CNN that the governor had not been notified that he is at the center of a federal investigation. The attorney said the governor "will certainly cooperate with the government if he is contacted about it."

McAuliffe is a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee and he worked previously on presidential campaigns for both Clintons. The governor is also involved in Hillary Clinton's 2016 White House bid, and he campaigned for her earlier this year in his home state of Virginia, which will be a major swing state in the general election in November.

Formerly a national Democratic operative and fundraiser, McAuliffe is no stranger to federal investigations. He won the 2013 gubernatorial election despite facing heavy criticism from his opponents over probes by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Department of Homeland Security into GreenTech Automotive, an electric car company McAuliffe he founded and left before entering the race.

The feds were investigating whether the company used McAuliffe's political ties to get preferential treatment when seeking visas for Chinese investors. Anthony Rodham, Hillary Clinton's brother, was also caught up in the investigation for his work recruiting Chinese investors for the company.

The future governor denied any wrongdoing, and neither he nor Rodham were ever charged in connection with the case. McAuliffe said at the time that he had simply fought for visas that were inexplicably delayed by bureaucracy, much as he planned to fight for Virginia's interests as governor. The explanation speaks to a personality that has helped him to build a long political career in both Virginia and nationally, where he is known as a brash but energetic and powerful fundraiser who can come across as tone-deaf.

Related: FBI Reveals New Details About Its Probe Into Hillary Clinton's Use of Private Email Server

In his 2008 book, What a Party!, which become another focus of the 2013 campaign against him, McAuliffe gleefully described his close relationship with the Clintons and celebrity Democratic donors, as well as his endless fundraising, which often trumped everything else in his life. In one section, often cited by Republicans during his campaign, McAuliffe described leaving his crying wife and newborn baby in the back of a car with a stunned assistant on the way home from the hospital, in order to stop in at a Democratic fundraiser.

"It was a million bucks for the Democratic Party," he reasoned in the book, adding that all was forgiven once they got home.

McAuliffe is now the second Virginia governor in a row to come under federal scrutiny for potential campaign finance violations. Former Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife were indicted just 10 days after leaving office over gifts the couple accepted from a Virginia drug company CEO who did business with the state. McDonnell is currently appealing the case in the Supreme Court, and during oral arguments earlier this year the justices reportedly sounded sympathetic to his assertion that those sorts of gifts are a routine part of US politics. He faces two years in prison.

Follow Sarah Mimms on Twitter: @SarahMMimms