Sitting in shirtsleeves and wearing a reddish-orange tie, Gov. Terry McAuliffe was as effervescent as ever during his hourlong call-in show last week, broadcast from Newsradio 1140 WRVA in Richmond.
“Who knew the media would get it wrong,” he told host Jimmy Barrett, regarding a CNN report that he was under federal investigation related to a $120,000 donation to his gubernatorial campaign from companies controlled by Chinese executive Wang Wenliang.
It turned out, according to McAuliffe, that the probe “had nothing to do with Virginia politics,” but rather with the possibility that before he was governor, McAuliffe may have acted as an agent for a foreign entity in business deals.
McAuliffe emphatically denied any such allegation. He said his lawyer, James W. Cooper, had contacted the Justice Department and had been told there was no evidence in the matter. McAuliffe said the investigation should disappear quickly.
But the mess has McAuliffe on guard, coming in the middle of a presidential campaign with his close friend Hillary Clinton as the leading Democratic candidate.
In another layer of headlines, critics said it was a shame that two Virginia governors in a row have been targets of federal investigations. McAuliffe’s predecessor, Bob McDonnell, faces prison time for corruption. The U.S. Supreme Court may rule on his appeal by July.
During the radio interview, McAuliffe stumbled when asked how often he’d met with Wang.
“If he walked in this room, I wouldn’t be able to recognize him,” McAuliffe said, adding that he may have met the Chinese businessman, who is in the country legally, twice.
Barrett reminded him that Time magazine has reported that Wang visited Clinton’s home for a 2013 fundraiser at McAuliffe’s invitation. There were “300 people” at the event, the governor said: “I meet a lot of people.”
Before running for governor, McAuliffe was involved in electric car maker GreenTech Automotive with Hillary Clinton’s brother, Tony Rodman. The faltering project drew criticism that it may have improperly lobbied to put Chinese officials involved with it at the head of the list for business visas. McAuliffe withdrew from GreenTech before running for office.
Wang also has ties to the Clintons. Rilin Enterprises, one of Wang’s companies, pledged $2 million in 2013 to the Clinton Foundation, according to CBS. Wang got involved with Virginia through a $1 billion soybean export deal that was brokered through the McDonnell administration.
Indeed, there’s been plenty of business involving Chinese and Virginia companies and the state’s trade bureaucracy.
High-level contacts involving the University of Virginia’s Darden graduate business school and former Secretary of Commerce and Trade Jim Cheng led to plans for a $2 billion pulp mill by Sandong Tranlin now being built just south of Richmond. The ties began during the McDonnell administration, and McAuliffe’s team sealed the project.
China’s WH Group, formerly Shuanghui International, bought one of Virginia’s marquee-name corporations, Smithfield Foods, for $7.1 billion in 2013, notably for its pork production. There were plenty of complaints that the Chinese were government-owned but the deal has proceeded.
Richmond’s powerhouse lobbying firm, McGuireWoods Consulting, has a joint venture with a Chinese lobbying group and had helped Wang with obtaining visas and by giving advice.
And the Virginia Port Authority is undergoing a large expansion because its Hampton Roads facilities and ones in Baltimore are the only ports with channels deep enough to handle the larger ships passing through the newly widened Panama Canal. Many of the ships start their voyages in China.
During his radio interview, McAuliffe boasted of being the most-traveled governor in the state’s history, visiting many countries on trade missions. He said that one of the reasons Virginia’s statewide unemployment rate has dropped to 3.9 percent is that its economy is being buoyed by expanding foreign trade, notably with China.
“The unemployment rate was 5.3 percent when I was elected,” he said. S