RVA Politics is a blog about politics in the state of Virginia And the capital city of Richmond.

The author is a political scientist. Please don't hold that against him.

 

McAuliffe's "investigation" is Clinton flashback

The big news this week: CNN reported that Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe is under federal investigation! The issue is campaign contributions he may have received from a mysterious Chinese billionaire, Weng Wenilang!! Not another governor investigated, moans the Richmond Times Dispatch in an editorial - "this is something Virginia does not need" !!!!

In case the mounting exclamation points weren't a clue, let me be clear: this is not a story, at least not in the way it seems.

The key thing to notice here is CNN's sources for the story. Was it federal investigators conducting the investigation? Was it a spokesman for the Department of Justice? Actually, it was "U.S. officials briefed on the probe." That could be anyone - or, as Karoli Kuns at Crooks and Liars points out, it could just be the staffers of a Republican Congressman.

Is there an investigation? Sure, probably. But there are investigations going on at the DOJ all the time. Just because an FBI agent is reviewing something doesn't make it a crime. (As the RTD editorial grudgingly admitted, "Investigations are not convictions.") These investigations often go nowhere, and there's no indication that McAuliffe has done anything wrong or that the feds are moving forward with anything.

By contrast, Fox reported in February that the investigation of Hillary Clinton's use of a private e-mail server reportedly involved DOJ attorneys, which suggests a more "mature" investigation. And even THAT case will not likely lead to any indictment, no matter how much Republicans wish upon a star.

And it is Hillary Clinton that's the real story here. CNN's breathless report takes us back to the 1990s, when campaign finance concerns about China and the White House were the subject of multiple Congressional investigations. It's not likely a coincidence that this story broke the same week that Trump decided to bring up Vince Foster. CNN itself noted that Trump's entire campaign strategy seems to be "back to the 90s."

As Charlie Pierce points out in Esquire, the McAuliffe "investigation" presents yet another opportunity to drag Clinton's name down. The CNN story mentioned that McAuliffe's role as a board member of the Clinton Global Initiative was part of the investigation. Pierce notes:

This is the classic Whitewater technique for what we can call a "foundational leak." You claim to be investigating something unrelated to either Clinton, but you make sure the name "Clinton" is in there somewhere. Smoke, fire, you know.

And so now McAuliffe now has to deny that this campaign issue has anything to do with Hillary - which becomes the headline on Breitbart.com. A legal "expert" shows up on FoxNews to explain how this probe is almost certainly connected to Clinton, and this expert's appearance gets reported in other conservative media as a confirmation. (And let's not get started on how this issue is being "reported" on Twitter.)

McAuliffe may not be the best Governor ever, but unlike his predecessor, he is not going to be indicted, at least not over these campaign contributions. Instead, this story is much more about his powerful friend (and, possibly, future employer) who just happens to be running for President.

But the PR damage has been done: we have another Clinton scandal, 90s style. The Richmond Times Dispatch was right about one thing: this is not what Virginians need.

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