What happened when the swampiest of swamp cats met the man from the FBI?
Every student of American politics knows that Terry McAuliffe is that swampiest of swamp creatures, the cool cat with the big bucks. Al Gore called him “the greatest fundraiser in the history of the universe.” In 1996 alone, as national finance chairman of the Clinton-Gore re-election team, McAuliffe raised $50 million, but plunged the Democratic Party into a sweeping campaign-finance scandal involving the sale of sleepovers in the Lincoln Bedroom, coffee klatches at the White House, a vast cast of sketchy characters and rivers of money. The Clintons loved the ebullient money man and he loved them back. By 1999, McAuliffe claimed to have raised nearly $275 million for the Arkansas couple—and that’s before he joined forces with the Clinton’s 21st century money machine, the Clinton Foundation and Clinton Global Initiative. In 2000, he was named chairman of the Democratic National Committee. In 2008, he chaired Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. In 2013, with enthusiastic support from the Clintons, he ran for governor of Virginia and won.
By 2015, Governor McAuliffe already was “shaping a significant role for himself” in Mrs. Clinton’s second try at the presidency, Politico reported. A “consummate political animal, [McAuliffe] just can’t keep his fingers away from the flame. Despite the daily demands of running the state…he’s emerging as Hillary’s informal liaison to governors and the party’s biggest donors, while also keeping a finger on the pulse of the camp’s central operations in Brooklyn.”
By contrast, even today, in the wake of hundreds of media stories and last week’s Office of Inspector General report on alleged wrongdoing in the 2016 election, few people will recognize the name Andrew McCabe. He’s a swamp inhabitant too, though many would put him on the right side of the swamp, on dry land, chasing the bad guys. Except that’s not quite how it turned out.
Many of the McCabe details in the OIG report will come as no surprise to Judicial Watch followers. We’ve been uncovering facts about the McCabe affair for over a year. Read about our efforts here, here, and here.
A useful timeline in the OIG report sketches the McCabe-McAuliffe saga—a swamp tale of a particular sort. In 2014, McCabe, a rising star at the FBI, is assistant director of the bureau’s Washington, DC, field office. His wife is a pediatrician in Virginia. Terry McAuliffe is governor.
In February 2015, Dr. McCabe receives a phone call from Virginia’s lieutenant governor. Would she consider running for a state senate seat?
Less than two weeks later, in March 2015, McCabe and his wife drive to Richmond for what they thought was a meeting with a Virginia state senator to discuss Dr. McCabe’s possible run for office.
In Richmond, according to the OIG report, they are told there had been “a change of plans” and that “Governor McAuliffe wanted to speak to Dr. McCabe at the Governor’s mansion.”
It’s around this time that a veteran FBI agent’s radar might start blinking.
McCabe and his wife meet with McAuliffe for 30 to 45 minutes, according to the OIG report. Fundraising was discussed. “Governor McAuliffe said that he and the Democratic Party would support Dr. McCabe’s candidacy.” McAuliffe asked McCabe about his occupation and “McCabe told him he worked for the FBI but they did not discuss McCabe’s work or any FBI business.” McCabe later described it to an FBI official as a “surreal meeting.”
After the meeting, the couple rode to a local event with the governor, then returned to the mansion with the governor to retrieve their car.
McCabe informed FBI ethics officials and lawyers about the meeting and consulted with them about his wife’s plans. No one raised strong objections. McCabe recused himself from all public corruption cases in Virginia and Dr. McCabe jumped into the race.
In July 2015, the FBI opened an investigation into Mrs. Clinton’s email practices.
Let’s pause to note here that while the official FBI investigation was opened in July 2015, Mrs. Clinton was known to be in hot water as far back as March 2015, when the State Department inspector general revealed her widespread use of a private, non-government email server.
Swamp cats will notice that March 2015 is also when Andrew and Jill McCabe got their surprise audience with McAuliffe, the longtime Clinton money man.
The McCabe fortunes rose in the autumn of 2015. Mr. McCabe was promoted to associate deputy director of the FBI. Dr. McCabe received $675,000 from two McAuliffe-connected entities for her state senate race. They were by far the biggest donations to her campaign.
In November 2015, Dr. McCabe lost her race.
In January 2016, the FBI opened an investigation into the Clinton Foundation.
On February 1, Mr. McCabe was promoted again, to deputy director of the FBI.
Despite the McAuliffe connection, the OIG report notes, there was no FBI re-evaluation of McCabe’s recusals following his promotions. Although recused from Virginia public corruption investigations, he retained a senior role in Clinton-related matters.
In May 2016, news broke that McAuliffe was under FBI investigation for campaign finance violations. CNN reported that investigators were scrutinizing “McAuliffe’s time as a board member of the Clinton Global Initiative” and Chinese businessman Wang Wenliang, a U.S. permanent resident who made large donations to both the McAuliffe 2013 gubernatorial campaign and to the Clinton Foundation.
On October 23, the Wall Street Journal revealed the McAuliffe-linked donations to Dr. McCabe’s campaign. At FBI headquarters, McCabe resists pressure from senior executives to recuse himself from all Clinton-related matters.
Finally, on November 1—a week before the presidential election—McCabe recused from the Clinton email and Clinton Foundation investigations.
Following James Comey’s dismissal in May 2017, McCabe was briefly acting director of the FBI—the most powerful law enforcement position in the land. Following the appointment of Chris Wray as director, McCabe returned to the deputy director position and, as controversy engulfed him and the FBI, he went on paid leave. Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired him in March, 2018. The Justice Department inspector general has referred a possible criminal case against McCabe to federal prosecutors for lying to internal investigators in an earlier probe of the Wall Street Journal story and leaks.
One of the strangest claims in the OIG report is that the senior leadership of the FBI was not aware of—or perhaps simply did not care about—McAuliffe’s long history with the Clintons. “We were troubled,” the OIG report notes, “by the fact that the FBI ethics officials and attorneys did not fully appreciate the potential significant implications to McCabe and the FBI from campaign contributions to Dr. McCabe’s campaign and did not implement any review of those campaign donations. Thus, while the same factual circumstances that led to McCabe’s recusal on November 1, 2016, were present at the time McCabe became deputy director on February 1, 2016, the FBI ethics officials, McCabe, and Comey only learned of them as a result of the October 23 WSJ article.”
It seems likely now that the McCabe chapter of the larger battle in Washington will end with a whimper, not a bang. The beasts—investigative, media, political—move on. But what are we to make of Terry McAuliffe’s role in the episode?
Swamp aficionados will note the sudden “change of plans” that elevated the trip to Richmond from a meeting with a low-level political operative to an encounter with the governor. McAuliffe is charming and charismatic. Money is (vaguely) discussed, and oh by the way, McAuliffe asks McCabe, what is your occupation?
Now, Terry McAuliffe’s connections are legendary. His devotion to the Clinton ambitions is unswerving. He knows everybody, particularly anybody who has any business with the Clintons (remember, the email controversy is about to metastasize) and certainly he knew that Andrew McCabe worked for the FBI before he asked that question. But now McCabe knows that the governor knows. Next, money—a lot of it—flows to Dr. McCabe’s campaign.
Things might have turned out differently, after all. Jill McCabe might have been in the state senate. Hillary Clinton might have been in the White House. And Andrew McCabe was in line to be the next director of the FBI. Some of the best swamp plays are not about greed but ambition.
Micah Morrison is chief investigative reporter for Judicial Watch. Follow him on Twitter @micah_morrison. Tips: firstname.lastname@example.org
Investigative Bulletin is published by Judicial Watch. Reprints and media inquiries: email@example.com