| Miller Center

Terry McAuliffe 'baffled' by Justice Department probe

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe is "as baffled as anyone else" by a federal investigation into his campaign finances, he said Wednesday.

The Justice Department's integrity unit revealed last week that it is investigating 2013 campaign contributions from Chinese billionaire Wang Wenliang.

McAuliffe was "somewhat shocked when this got leaked," he said during a morning appearance on WTOP radio's "Ask the Governor" program. The Democratic governor, a close, longtime friend of former president Bill Clinton and 2016 presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton, said it was "very unfortunate that our institutions of integrity would leak information in this fashion."

Wang had been "fully vetted" by his 2013 gubernatorial campaign McAuliffe said. "We had a huge vetting operation in ’13," he said. "We raised a lot of money." 

One of Wang's U.S.-based real estate development companies, West Legend, donated $10,000 to McAuliffe's gubernatorial campaign in March, 2013, and an additional $60,000 in September of that year, according to the non-partisan Virginia Public Access Project.

West Legend also donated $50,000 in November 2013 to McAuliffe's inaugural committee.

Wang, who according to Forbes magazine, has a net worth of just over $1 billion, has been a United States green card holder since 2007, McAuliffe said. "You are allowed to give a check if you are a green card holder."
(Under federal law, foreign nationals are barred from contributing to U.S. political campaigns.) 

"I would not know the man if he sat in the chair next to me," the governor told listeners to the Washington, D.C., station. But he also came to Wang's defense, calling him a "fine upstanding individual." 

"Unless there's something I don’t know today, this poor man [Wang] has been dragged through the mud for giving a legitimate contribution."

"They can look at anything they want," McAuliffe said of the federal investigation into Wang's donations to his gubernatorial campaign. He said his lawyers had contacted the Department of Justice and they were told there were "no indications there is any wrongdoing."

"We live in a political world," he said. "This is what happens."

He also said CNN, which broke the story Friday, had been "sold a bag of goods on this story."

McAuliffe said he remains "focused on being governor" and continues to observe the $100 gift limit he established early in his tenure.  "If you give me a ball cap, it’s written down" and declared on his disclosure forms, he said.

He remained upbeat:  "I’m as popular as I’ve ever been because I focus on people. Everything is cranking here in Virginia." 

He also shot down speculation that the investigation of his finances could affect Hillary Clinton's chances of winning Virginia's 13 electoral votes in November.

"Hillary Clinton is going to win Virginia," McAuliffe said. While he talks to both Bill and Hillary Clinton "all the time," he said he has not discussed the investigation with them. He served as chairman of Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign. He is also on the leadership team of her 2016 effort.

McAuliffe is the second Virginia governor in a row whose relationship with a campaign donor has drawn the attention of federal authorities. Republican former Gov. Bob McDonnell, along with his wife Maureen, were convicted in 2014 of honest services wire fraud and other federal charges stemming from gifts from a Virginia entrepreneur. McDonnell's appeal of his conviction is before the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard arguments on the case in April. 

McAuliffe, a longtime Democratic party operative who detailed his political adventures in the colorful 2008 memoir "What A Party! My Life Among Democrats: Presidents, Candidates, Donors, Activists, Alligators and Other Wild Animals," suggested putting the investigation into a wider perspective. 

"I think people understand investigations do happen," McAuliffe added, "but you’ve got to move on."