Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) is moving to head off a burgeoning controversy sparked by a federal probe that could have consequences for his close friend and political ally, Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonClinton lawyer's indictment reveals 'bag of tricks' Attorney charged in Durham investigation pleads not guilty Attorney indicted on charge of lying to FBI as part of Durham investigation MORE.
McAuliffe has launched a media blitz insisting the FBI will not find any wrongdoing in its investigation of contributions to his 2013 gubernatorial campaign.
The governor said in a TV interview he is “baffled” by the inquiry, which reportedly began last year. In a separate radio interview, he lashed out at Department of Justice and FBI after news of the investigation leaked to the press.
The investigation is not helpful to Clinton, whose presidential campaign is already dogged by a federal probe into her use of a private email server as secretary of State.
Independent analysts believe the McAuliffe probe is unlikely to cause widespread damage to Clinton.
But it still may cause discomfort for Clinton, whose personal and political finances are deeply intertwined with the governor's.
“McAuliffe is worried, not only about himself, but any potential impact on the presidential campaign because he has something personal tied in here,” said Geoffrey Skelley, an associate editor at the University of Virginia Center for Politics’ newsletter. “He could be mentioned as a possible member of the cabinet if she wins.”
The governor’s aggressive strategy has earned plaudits from some unlikely sources.
Tom Davis, a former longtime Republican member of Congress from northern Virginia, echoed McAuliffe’s belief that there isn’t “much credibility” to the probe and that the governor is “entitled to the presumption of innocence.”
“An investigation means nothing, everybody who has been in office has been investigated,” said Davis, who led the House oversight committee in the mid-2000s. “I don’t put much stock in it until it evolves into something.”
Davis said the probe doesn’t hamper McAuliffe’s ability to carry out his duties at this point.
“If you take a lesson from Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonBusiness coalition aims to provide jobs to Afghan refugees Biden nominates ex-State Department official as Export-Import Bank leader Obamas, Bushes and Clintons joining new effort to help Afghan refugees MORE, you go aggressive and you don’t hide from these things,” he said. “You be aggressive and do your job.”
But there are already signs of political fallout from the investigation.
The governor’s office said Thursday he’ll no longer be attending a fundraiser for Ohio Democratic Senate candidate Ted Strickland scheduled for next week.
“To some extent, the moment [the report] came out it was damaging,” said Skelley. “I don’t know if the PR response has been so brilliant that it’s going to save the day for McAuliffe.”
The free-wheeling governor is a close personal friend of and top fundraiser for the Clintons.
He was handpicked by President Bill Clinton to lead the Democratic National Committee in 2000 and he served as a co-chairman of Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign.
The former secretary of State enthusiastically endorsed McAuliffe’s 2013 campaign for governor and both she and her husband headlined rallies and attended fundraisers.
The probe dredges up McAuliffe’s history of questionable financial dealings with the Clintons.
CNN, which first reported the investigation, wrote that authorities are looking into $120,000 in donations Chinese businessman Wang Wenliang gave to McAuliffe through his American business.
Foreign nationals are not allowed to donate to any American political campaign. But McAuliffe said Wenliang holds a green card, which would make him eligible to make such contributions.
The governor said on WTOP radio that both he and Wenliang have been dealt with unfairly.
“This poor man is now dragged through the mud because of a leak from, I don't know, Justice or FBI to CNN, which to me is — I think they were sold a bag of goods,” he said.
But investigators are reportedly looking broadly at McAuliffe’s political finances and his business career before he took office.
Wenliang, a former delegate to the Chinese National People’s Congress, also has ties to Clinton.
He attended a 2013 fundraiser at Clinton’s home in Washington, D.C., after being invited by McAuliffe, and shook her hand, Time magazine reported this week.
He gave $2 million to the Clinton Foundation and has met twice with Bill Clinton to discuss the organization’s work.
Republicans were quick to note the longstanding ties between Clinton and McAuliffe, blasting out a list of news clips to reporters detailing their personal and professional dealings.
“Please see a refresher on how closely linked the Virginia governor is to the Clintons and the controversial fundraising practices he stewarded in the 1990s that practically placed a ‘for sale’ sign on the White House and set a new low for ethics in government,” Republican National Committee spokesman Raj Shah wrote in an email.
The questions date back more than a decade.
In 1999, McAuliffe helped the Clintons, who had massive legal debts, purchase their new home in Chappaqua, N.Y., by guaranteeing the mortgage. The move raised ethical questions about the president’s relationship with his deep-pocketed supporters.
And before he was elected governor, McAuliffe helped launch an electric car company called GreenTech. He drew scrutiny for receiving favoritism from the federal government in securing visas for foreign investors.
McAuliffe enlisted the help of a firm run by Clinton’s brother, Tony Rodham, to help obtain the visas.
Skelley said the investigation is particularly damaging for McAuliffe because it “gives fire to smoke that some people have claimed has been there for a long time.”
Virginia governors are limited to one term. And if the investigation does uncover wrongdoing, it could close off a route to a post in a Clinton administration, if she is elected president.
McAuliffe openly mused last year about the possibility that he could be named commerce secretary by Clinton.
“It would be interesting,” he said in a radio interview. “I’ve never worked for anyone in my life.”