Terry McAuliffe downplayed his relationship with a Chinese businessman whose donations to the Virginia governor are at the center of an FBI investigation, saying he was “not sure” if he had ever met the billionaire. But according to two reports out on Tuesday night, McAuliffe did meet with the donor, Wang Wenliang, before he was elected to office.
“I’m not even sure I’ve ever met the person, to be honest with you,” McAuliffe told reporters on Tuesday when asked about Wang, a former delegate to China’s National People’s Congress.
On Monday, CNN broke the news that the FBI and Justice Department’s public integrity unit is investigating McAuliffe over $120,000 in campaign contributions he received in 2013 from one of Wang’s companies, West Legend Corp.
“I know the folks who have worked in his company,” added McAuliffe, who is close friends of the Clintons and served as a director of the Clinton Global Initiative. Wang, through his company Rilin Enterprises, donated $2 million to the Clinton Foundation. (RELATED: Va. Governor Denies Wrongdoing, Tells FBI ‘They’re Entitled To Do An Investigation’)
During his remarks on Tuesday, McAuliffe avoided using Wang’s name when discussing the investigation. Instead he referred “the donor” and “the person.” He also said that the donations were fully vetted and were not illegal since Wang has a green card.
Jim Hodges, the former governor of South Carolina and a registered lobbyist for one of Wang’s companies, Dandong Port Co., said that his firm, McGuireWoods Consulting, introduced Wang to “then-private citizen Terry McAuliffe” shortly after a soybean deal was closed between the commonwealth of Virginia and Dandong.
“To the best of my recollection, this occurred shortly after the soybean agreement was announced,” Hodges told the Times-Dispatch.
“We helped Mr. Wang’s business in 2013 to make the largest purchase of Virginia soybeans in the commonwealth’s history. Mr. Wang has continued to explore other opportunities to invest in the United States over the years and has also supported philanthropic causes here,” he added.
Dandong Port Co. has paid McGuireWoods $1.5 million since 2012 to lobby Congress and federal agencies on a variety of issues.
The Times reported that Dandong pursued a strategy of appealing to state government officials — and not just those at the federal level — to drum up business.
“If you really want to influence, let’s say, U.S.-China policy,” Mark Fung, an attorney for Dandong, said during a 2012 interview cited by The Times. “It’s almost worth it to have emphasis and influence on the state level.”
There are some indications that the FBI’s investigation centers on financial transactions outside of Wang’s campaign contributions.
The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that federal investigators “are looking broadly at donations to McAuliffe and at his personal finances — and are interested in foreign sources of income.”
The burgeoning scandal comes at a bad time for McAuliffe’s close friend, Hillary Clinton. The likely Democratic party nominee has seen her likability and trustworthiness numbers fall dramatically amid scandals involving the Clinton Foundation and her use of a private email system.