Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe said Wednesday he had met the Chinese businessman whose donations to his 2013 campaign are now under scrutiny from federal investigators — downplaying the extent of the meetings but backtracking on statements he made a day earlier indicating he never met the man in person.
“They say he may have come to the inaugural, not sure. We may have had him over for a cup of coffee with my secretary of agriculture,” Mr. McAuliffe said on WTOP Radio’s “Ask the Governor” program. “I did no deals. I would not know the man if he sat in the chair next to me.”
Reports first emerged Monday that the FBI and Justice Department are looking into whether donations made to Mr. McAuliffe’s gubernatorial campaign, which appear closely aligned with money given to the Clinton Foundation, violated the law.
It was unclear what suspected violation triggered the investigation, but CNN reported that authorities apparently are interested in $120,000 worth of donations made to Mr. McAuliffe’s 2013 campaign by Chinese businessman Wang Wenliang.
“I have no personal relationship with him. He gave money,” Mr. McAuliffe said Wednesday, fending off accusations of wrongdoing.
When news of the investigation broke, the Democratic governor said he had not been contacted by any federal investigators about the probe. Since then, Mr. McAuliffe said his attorney has had a chance to speak with authorities.
“I had my lawyer reach out to the Justice Department and ask whether they have any indication of any wrongdoing on my part, and the answer was no,” he said. “My lawyer confirmed there are no issues they have of wrongdoing. But it’s unfortunate you get these leaks out of Justice. They have responsibility. You live in a political world, this is what happens.”
Mr. McAuliffe is a close friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton’s, having previously served as a fundraiser for their campaigns and as a board member of the Clinton Global Initiative, an endeavor of their charitable foundation.
Mr. Wang, a former delegate to China’s parliament, has made sizable donations to the Clinton Foundation. He pledged $2 million to the foundation in 2013 through his company Rilin Enterprises.
Campaign finance records show that Mr. Wang’s New Jersey-based business, West Legend Corporation, a construction material supplier that is affiliated with Rilin, gave $70,000 to Mr. McAuliffe’s campaign and an additional $50,000 to his inaugural committee.
Foreign nationals are not allowed to donate to federal, state or local elections but Mr. McAuliffe said that Mr. Wang’s donations to his campaign were vetted by a team of lawyers and he was found to have held a green card since 2007 — making him eligible to donate.
“This poor man is now dragged through the mud because of a leak,” Mr. McAuliffe told WTOP.
The Associated Press reported that Mr. Wang is a member of China’s ruling Communist Party and a delegate from the northeastern province of Liaoning to the country’s ceremonial legislature, the National People’s Congress, according to the body’s website.
Membership in the congress, which meets only once a year, is often awarded based on contributions to China’s economy and society. Proposals raised by Mr. Wang at the two-week annual session focused on economic development in the northeast and improving China’s foreign trade links, according to a website run by the Chinese Cabinet’s information office.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Wang declined to comment, the AP reported.
⦁ This article is based in part on wire service reports.