McAuliffe under investigation by FBI

McAuliffe: "I followed the law in accepting donations"

(File photo: The Associated Press)

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC/ABC/AP) — Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe has been named the subject of an ongoing investigation by the FBI and prosecutors from the Justice Department’s public integrity unit.

Federal authorities have been looking into whether donations made to McAuliffe’s campaign to become governor may have violated federal law, a source with knowledge of the probe told ABC News.

“I followed the law in accepting donations.” — Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe

The investigation is questioning whether donations to his gubernatorial campaign violated the law, the officials said.

McAuliffe wasn’t notified by investigators that he is a target of the probe, according to the officials.

McAuliffe says he’s confident he followed the law in accepting donations that now appear to be part of a federal criminal investigation.

McAuliffe defended his actions Tuesday to reporters at an event in Alexandria. A law-enforcement official told The Associated Press on Monday that McAuliffe is the subject of a federal investigation looking at donations to his 2013 gubernatorial campaign.

McAuliffe said he believes the investigation centers around a donation connected to Chinese businessman Wang Wenliang. Federal law forbids foreigners from contributing to U.S. political campaigns, but McAuliffe said Wang has held a green card for nearly a decade and is a legitimate donor.

McAuliffe is a longtime friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton. He said he’s also confident the investigation won’t harm Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid.

As part of the FBI’s review, agents have looked at McAuliffe’s time associated with the Clinton Global Initiative and contributions from foreign nationals such as Wang Wenliang, a prominent Chinese businessman who reportedly holds U.S. permanent residency and donated $120,000 to McAuliffe’s campaign.

“Contributions to the campaign from Mr. Wang were completely lawful,” McAuliffe campaign attorney Marc Elias said in a statement. “The Governor will certainly cooperate with the government if he is contacted about it.”

FD5FE359205645FC978480ED8186C75AWenliang is a former delegate to China’s National People’s Congress. Former federal prosecutor Chuck James tells 8News that it’s unlikely the probe will turn up evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

“Mr. Wang, as I understand it, does have a green card,” James told 8News, “and would be allowed to contribute to this or any other political campaign.”

According to ABC News, an FBI spokesperson declined to comment on news of the probe, which was first reported by CNN.

8News reached out to the Justice Department for a comment — they have yet to respond.

While McAuliffe’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment, McAuliffe’s attorney, Marc Elias, released the following statement:

“We cannot confirm the CNN report. Neither the Governor nor his former campaign has knowledge of this matter, but as reported, contributions to the campaign from Mr. Wang were completely lawful. The Governor will certainly cooperate with the government if he is contacted about it.”

McAuliffe, who was elected governor in 2013, previously served as the chairman of the Democratic National Committee. In addition, he has strong ties to the Clinton family, serving as Bill Clinton’s co-chairman of the 1996 re-election campaign and as Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign chairman. `

Last year, McAuliffe’s political action committee, Common Good Va., returned a $25,000 donation from a company with ties to Angola’s state-owned oil company after The Associated Press raised questions about its legality. Federal law prohibits campaigns at any level from receiving money from outside the U.S.

McAuliffe’s international business connections also came under scrutiny prior to his gubernatorial campaign. He served as chairman of GreenTech Automotive, a company that hoped to bring supercompact automobiles to the U.S. market. The company attracted hundreds of thousands of dollars in foreign investment, in part through a federal program that granted visas to investors who met certain job-creation thresholds.

McAuliffe resigned from the company in December 2012. GreenTech, which received millions of dollars in economic incentives from state and local officials to build a plant in Mississippi, faced criticism for falling well below expectations in production and job creation.

McAuliffe’s predecessor in the governor’s mansion, Republican Bob McDonnell, was convicted on federal corruption charges but has appealed his conviction to the U.S. Supreme Court.

McAuliffe has had a busy day. Earlier on Monday, a group of Virginia Republicans filed a lawsuit to contest voting rights he recently restored. In addition, a Freedom of Information request uncovered the governor’s use of the state plane.

Records show that McAuliffe has used a state airplane to fly to Cuba and a University of Virginia basketball game in Chicago, among other destinations.

Last year, McAuliffe’s political action committee, Common Good Va., returned a $25,000 donation from a company with ties to Angola’s state-owned oil company after The Associated Press raised questions about its legality.

The Daily Press obtained the Department of Aviation records by invoking the Freedom of Information Act to learn flights that McAuliffe or his cabinet members took since September.

McAuliffe took the plane all over Virginia, with short trips to Hampton Roads, the Shenandoah Valley and the District of Columbia.

The governor, first lady and three of their children also used it to travel to Chicago to watch U.Va’s basketball team play in the NCAA tournament. At the state-set rate of $985 per flight hour, the trip cost about $4,800. Spokesman Brian Coy said the trip was an official one since McAuliffe was representing the state at the game.

In January McAuliffe traveled to Cuba, a trip that was months in the making. Virginia ships more agricultural goods to Cuba than any other state and McAuliffe has said he wants that relationship to grow.

The Democrat will reimburse the state for two trips, both out-of-state weddings of political advisers, Coy said.

McAuliffe’s flights have been scrutinized since he used the plane last year to attend a U2 concert and former President Bill Clinton’s birthday party.

This is a developing story. Stay with 8News online and on air for the latest updates.

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