RICHMOND, Va. — Donald Trump was out of bounds when he accused rival Hillary Clinton of committing a "criminal act" by giving large campaign contributions to the wife of an FBI official who later supervised the agency's investigation into Clinton's email practices when she was secretary of state.
Speaking to Fox News on Tuesday, Trump reacted to a Wall Street Journal report that Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe helped fund the failed state Senate campaign of the FBI official's wife. Noting that Democrat McAuliffe is close to the Clintons, Trump said any donation from McAuliffe amounts to a donation from the Democratic presidential candidate.
"Now, that's Clinton giving the money, because that's how close they are," Trump said. "She gave money at a huge clip, $675,000 to the wife of the FBI agent who was in charge of her investigation. Let me tell you something — that's a criminal act."
Trump may have a legitimate gripe about the FBI's conflict-of-interest policies, but his assertion that Clinton tried to influence a key investigator through donations to his wife are incorrect because her husband didn't become involved in the email probe until after her bid for office had already failed. There's also no indication that the timing and amount of McAuliffe's donations were anything but routine.
Virginia Democrats, led by Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, identified and began recruiting Dr. Jill McCabe to run for the state Senate months before the FBI began its investigation into Clinton's emails. And the FBI says McCabe's husband, Andrew McCabe, was promoted to deputy director of the FBI and took a supervisory role in the email investigation three months after his wife's unsuccessful campaign had ended.
To persuade Jill McCabe to run, McAuliffe and other top state Democrats met with her and her husband in March 2015. It was the only time McAuliffe met Andrew McCabe, according to his spokesman.
That meeting came a few days after the first media reports that Clinton had used a private email address and server while serving as secretary of state. The FBI's investigation began in July 2015.
McAuliffe's political action committee gave McCabe nearly $500,000 during the course of her campaign, beginning before the investigation started and continuing after it was underway. Some of the largest donations came closer to Election Day and were around the same time as other donations he made to other Democrats in tight races. The Democratic Party of Virginia, for which McAuliffe also helps raise money, spent another $200,000 on McCabe's race.
There's also nothing unusual about the overall size of those donations, as McCabe's race was one of only a handful of competitive state Senate districts in 2015.
Democrats have long wanted to oust GOP state Senator Dick Black, an outspoken conservative and abortion foe, and thought that having a female physician like McCabe as their candidate was their best shot. In Virginia, which has virtually no rules on political fundraising, sitting governors are expected to use their clout to raise big money and help their party succeed in off-year legislative elections such as those in 2015.
McAuliffe's spokesman Brian Coy said McAuliffe supported McCabe "solely because she shared his vision for Virginia and any insinuation otherwise is ridiculous at best, reckless at worst."
The FBI said in a statement that Andrew McCabe sought guidance from agency ethics officers and recused himself of "all FBI investigative matters involving Virginia politics" throughout his wife's campaign.
It's true that McAuliffe has longstanding ties with Clinton and her husband. He led the effort to raise money for Bill Clinton's 1996 re-election bid, vacationed with the couple after the Monica Lewinsky scandal and secured a $1.35 million mortgage on their house in Chappaqua, New York, after they left the White House swamped by legal debts. McAuliffe also helped manage Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential bid.
The state senator who defeated Jill McCabe, Dick Black, said he doesn't know why the governor helped recruit McCabe to run against him. But Black, a former high-ranking prosecutor at the Pentagon and Trump supporter, said he's sure Andrew McCabe shouldn't have been anywhere close to the Clinton email investigation after his wife's campaign received significant help from McAuliffe.