Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D.), who is under federal investigation for a $120,000 contribution his campaign took from a Chinese billionaire, has a two-decades-long history of controversial dealings with China.
McAuliffe, who rolled his large network of wealthy businessmen and prolific fundraising ability into a political career for himself, has been criticized for doing inappropriate business with the Chinese since the early days of his career when he was fundraising for Bill Clinton's presidential campaigns. McAuliffe’s work with China has even been investigated by the Department of Justice before.
The DOJ revealed in 1997 it had been investigating whether the Chinese Embassy was directing contributions to the Democratic Party in an effort to buy influence in the Clinton administration, according to a Washington Post report. McAuliffe was the man in charge of Clinton's 1996 fundraising operation and was named in a federal corruption lawsuit, filed by Judicial Watch, that alleged that he was involved in the scheme.
"There are indications that Chinese efforts in connection with the 1996 elections were undertaken or orchestrated, at least in part, by People's Republic of China intelligence agencies," wrote federal investigators in a statement to the Senate.
McAuliffe was the architect of the Clinton fundraising strategy that brought big campaign donors into the White House to get them energized for the 1996 reelection effort. He wrote the infamous Lincoln Bedroom memo, which outlined how donors could pay their way into the White House for events such as having coffee with the president.
One major donor brought in through McAuliffe's plan was Charlie Trie, who brought along the head of a Chinese military-owned weapons company for his coffee meeting with Clinton.
Clinton later admitted that he shouldn't have had this meeting and returned the $640,000 Trie contributed to his legal defense fund due to "questions about the source of the funds." Trie pleaded guilty to federal authorities in 1999 but won leniency for giving information to DOJ on how conduits like him were used to transfer foreign money to Clinton's 1996 campaign.
Ten years later, the DOJ was investigating a McAuliffe fundraising operation again.
Eyebrows were raised in 2007 when Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, chaired by McAuliffe, raised $380,000 at a single dinner event in New York City's Chinatown.
A Los Angeles Times investigation revealed that most of the attendees at the $1,000-a-plate dinner were not registered to vote and listed low-paying jobs such as dishwasher on campaign filings, leading to the conclusion that restaurant workers were being "used as proxies by other big donors."
DOJ started contacting attendees to inquire whether they were coerced into giving money or did it on their own volition. Many said they were pressured to attend the event by Chinatown neighborhood associations controlled by powerful Chinese families associated with criminal enterprises such as gambling rings and human trafficking.
Shortly after the campaign, McAuliffe became involved in GreenTech Automotive, an electric car company that relied on Chinese investors that were using a government program to receive visas in return for their investment.
McAuliffe pressured government officials to overlook visa applications from Chinese investors that were denied due to national security fears, prompting an investigation by the Department of Homeland Security.
He quietly left the company as it came under focus during his gubernatorial campaign.
As Virginia's governor, McAuliffe has maintained his close ties with China.
He was credited for convincing Air China, one of the country's largest airlines, to start operating nonstop flights fro Beijing to Dulles Airport. He held a ceremony to welcome the inaugural flight. He was also given credit for convincing China to lift a ban on Virginia poultry that was instituted in 2007 due to concerns of avian flu, which state businesses said opened up opportunities for $20 million worth of exports.
McAuliffe also flew to China to visit the headquarters of the Shandong Tranlin Paper Company in order to cement plans for it to build a plant in Virginia. The visit allowed the company to "bask in the prestige of hosting a big-name governor with vast business and political connections," according to the Washington Post.
McAuliffe's desire to do business with China was also at the center of one of his administration's biggest embarrassments.
McAuliffe gave Chinese-owned Lindenburg Industries $1.4 million from the "Governor’s Opportunity Fund" in 2014 for it to build an automotive parts factory in Appomattox that would employ 349 people—but it failed to verify that information provided by the company was accurate.
North Carolina had been offered a nearly identical deal by Lindenburg in 2013 but decided not to do business with it after looking into the company—McAuliffe's administration did not ask for company financial statements until after it cut the check.
Just over a year after McAuliffe held a tent ceremony announcing the deal, Lindenburg had not hired a single person and let the factory enter foreclosure.
Regarding the $120,000 donation to his gubernatorial campaign, McAuliffe has said that his legal team looked into the donation that the FBI is reportedly looking into and he is "very confident the guy’s a legitimate donor."
The scope of the active investigation remains unclear, but it has been reported that McAuliffe's time working for the Clinton Foundation has also been probed.
The named donor, Wang Wenliang, has donated $2 million to the foundation. He was formerly a delegate to China’s legislative body, the National People’s Congress.
McAuliffe did not respond to a request for comment.