October 25, 2016 at 3:00 AM
"The man that was investigating her from the FBI, his wife runs for office, and they give her more than $675,000 to run. … It's absolutely disgraceful. It's absolutely terrible and it's unbelievable how Hillary Clinton got away with the email lie, the email scam, the email corruption, but now at least we have a pretty good idea. … She has to be held accountable because she knew that money, $675,000 plus, was being paid."
— Donald Trump, remarks in St. Augustine, Fla., Oct. 24, 2016
Trump seized on a Wall Street Journal article about donations made by Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), a close Clinton ally, to suggest again that Clinton escaped prosecution over her private email server because of malfeasance by the FBI.
But Trump must not have read the article too closely. The very first sentence says that election campaign was over by the time the FBI official began investigating Clinton. Trump makes it seem as if both things were happening at once.
On March 12, 2015, Jill McCabe, a hospital physician, announced her candidacy for the Virginia Senate. McAuliffe was determined to have Democrats win control of the state legislature so he could push through a promised expansion of Medicaid, which Republicans had blocked because it was part of the Affordable Care Act.
McCabe was recruited to run against incumbent Richard "Dick" Black, a staunch Republican who is often the target of Democrats in his suburban Loudoun County district. (Black nationally is best known for traveling to war-torn Syria in April to demonstrate his support for the administration of President Bashar al-Assad.)
McAuliffe's political action committee gave $452,500 to McCabe, and the state Democratic Party gave her campaign an additional $207,788. That was about one-third of the $1.8 million budget for her campaign.
Meanwhile, on March 2, 2015, the New York Times first reported on Clinton's email server setup while she was secretary of state. At the time, McCabe's husband, Andrew McCabe, was running the FBI's Washington, D.C., field office.
In July 2015, the FBI launched a criminal investigation of Clinton's server. The D.C. field office provided resources and personnel to the email probe. In September, Andrew McCabe moved to the FBI's headquarters, taking the No. 3 position. (Note: an earlier version of this column said he moved in July, based on the WSJ report, but the FBI says the move took place in September; McCabe was formally named to the post in July.)
In November 2015, Jill McCabe lost her race, with Black getting 52.3 percent to McCabe's 47.6 percent. Three months later, in February, Andrew McCabe became the FBI's deputy director and part of an executive team overseeing the Clinton email probe. However, the FBI told the Wall Street Journal, FBI Director James B. Comey made the final decisions on how to proceed.
The FBI also told the Journal in a statement that Andrew McCabe sought ethics advice from the bureau after McAuliffe and other Democrats met with the couple on March 7, 2015, to urge Jill McCabe to run. He then avoided involvement in public corruption cases in Virginia and did not participate in campaign events, the FBI said.
After Trump tweeted about his story, Journal reporter Devlin Barrett tweeted that he was not saying the donations were connected to the email probe.
Nowhere in the Journal article does it say that Clinton was aware of the contributions, and Trump offered no evidence to support that claim. He also darkly suggested that these contributions ensured that Clinton was not prosecuted. We sought an explanation from the Trump campaign but did not receive one.
"Once again, Donald Trump is just promoting a false and absurd conspiracy theory," said Clinton spokesman Josh Schwerin.
One might question whether Andrew McCabe should have recused himself from discussions over the email scandal, given the support his wife received from a Clinton confidant. But it's hard to see how the trail runs to Clinton — or how McAuliffe would know that the husband of someone he was supporting in a Virginia legislative race was going to be promoted months later.
By getting the timeline wrong and exaggerating the connections, Trump ends up in Three-Pinocchio range. But then, as he often does, Trump pushes the envelope and makes the unsupported claim that Clinton knew about the payments. It's almost like he can't help himself. That tips his statement about the Wall Street Journal article into Four-Pinocchio territory.
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