After initially failing to scandalize a Wall Street Journal story about political donations made by Clinton ally and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s (D) political action committee (PAC) to the wife of an FBI official, conservative media are trying to revive the story. Now they’re trying to hype flawed, speculative allegations of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s alleged role in the fundraising for McAuliffe’s PAC in hopes of undermining the FBI’s investigation into Clinton’s emails.
In an October 23 article titled “Clinton Ally Aided Campaign of FBI Official’s Wife,” the Journal reported, “The political organization of Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, an influential Democrat with longstanding ties to Bill and Hillary Clinton, gave nearly $500,000 to the election campaign of the wife of an official at the Federal Bureau of Investigation who later helped oversee the investigation into Mrs. Clinton’s email use.” The piece implied that the McAuliffe PAC’s donation may have influenced FBI official Andrew McCabe, who is married to the donation’s recipient, Jill McCabe, in his later investigation of Clinton’s email use.
Not only did journalists deride the piece’s flimsy, “embarrassing” claim, but the Journal’s own reporting also failed to support the idea that there was any impropriety by McAuliffe or McCabe. Indeed, other media outlets noted that “there’s literally nothing” to the story, both because “the timing is complicated if you’re trying to prove a Clinton email connection” and because “McAuliffe’s support of Jill McCabe was part of a much broader effort at the time to try to win back a Democratic majority in the state Senate.”
After briefly piercing into the mainstream media current, the toothless story seemed to fade away, until the Daily Mail reported on October 28 that “Clinton headlined a major fundraiser” for McAuliffe’s PAC “before the group steered nearly $500,000 to” Jill McCabe. The paper suggested that Clinton’s involvement in the fundraiser again “raise[s] questions about the impartiality of the FBI's investigation.”
But just as the initial Journal story fell apart under scrutiny of the timeline -- Andrew McCabe didn’t become involved in the FBI investigation until several months after McAuliffe’s donation to Jill McCabe -- so too does the Daily Mail’s bizarre and complicated suggestion that Clinton headlined a fundraiser because she was able to foresee that resulting donations would months later go to the wife of a man who would later be promoted twice to play a lead role in an investigation that did not yet exist.
After organizing a timeline of the fundraiser, donation, and investigation -- and lightly suggesting the optics don’t look good (a common media technique employed when investigating many of Clinton's nonscandals) -- Slate’s Ben Mathis-Lilley wrote:
What hasn't been proven is that Hillary Clinton did anything improper. Clinton would have had to be a pretty advanced political chessmaster to do a June 2015 fundraiser with the knowledge that, in October 2015, it would benefit the wife of an FBI official who would be promoted to an oversight position into her email investigation the next February. And McAuliffe would have to be an even savvier operator to have recruited Jill McCabe to run for office in March 2015 in the hopes that, sometime down the line, her husband would get promoted to the point of overseeing an investigation that didn't yet exist. There's also no evidence Andrew McCabe actually influenced the email investigation in a way that benefited Clinton. For all we know, he could've been pushing for her prosecution only to be overruled by Comey.
Indeed, perhaps a much simpler explanation for Clinton’s fundraising appearance and the McAuliffe PAC’s donation is that a leading Democrat raised money for the Virginia state party and the governor's PAC to try to swing the legislature to benefit the Democratic governor -- who is also an old friend -- during one of the few major off-year elections in the country.
Yet, even though almost nothing about the story has changed, right-wing media are now hyping the Daily Mail’s “exclusive” to suggest impropriety by Clinton and McAuliffe and a compromised FBI investigation. Fox News’ Tucker Carlson said the situation was “sleazy,” and the pro-Trump Breitbart News suggested the donations are “unusual” and raise questions, despite the continued lack of evidence of any wrongdoing.