McAuliffe's lawyer confirms FBI investigating Virginia governor

Officials: Virginia governor under FBI investigation
Officials: Virginia governor under FBI investigation

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Officials: Virginia governor under FBI investigation 01:44

(CNN)The attorney representing Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe confirmed Wednesday that the governor is the subject of a federal investigation.

James W. Cooper told CNN that federal officials informed him they are looking into McAuliffe's private business ties before he ran for governor. They are specifically exploring whether he violated the Foreign Agent Registration Act, which requires someone to inform the federal government if they plan to lobby on behalf of another country hoping to influence the domestic or foreign policies of the United States.
"Investigation is the correct word, but I have been told by the government what they are investigating and what they aren't," Cooper said. "They have told me it is about conduct during his time as a private citizen."
    Cooper says he reached out directly to Justice Department officials in the wake of the CNN report that revealed that McAuliffe was under investigation and that at least part of the probe related to campaign donations from Chinese businessman Wang Wenliang and his company, West Legend.
    According to Cooper, Justice Department officials confirmed the investigation but said it has nothing to do with campaign contributions or McAuliffe's conduct as a public official.
    CNN has reported that the connection to Wang was one aspect of the investigation that investigators had looked into but not the full scope of the probe.
    McAuliffe has denied any wrongdoing and has said that federal investigators have yet to contact him regarding the matter, telling reporters Tuesday "... investigations happen, no one's alleged any wrongdoing on my part."
    He has not been accused of any wrongdoing.
    Cooper, a former federal prosecutor himself, criticized federal officials who he claims leaked erroneous information to CNN in an attempt to besmirch the governor's character.
    "People who have not been charged with a crime, who have not been convicted of a crime, should not have to discuss their personal matters, even if they are public officials," Cooper said.
    While McAuliffe had extensive business interests around the world, Cooper says he never lobbied on behalf of another government and the Justice Department told him they have not found specific evidence that he violated the statute.
    "He was a global businessman. He certainly had foreign sources of income. That is not news, I think that has been well documented over the years," he said.
    McAuliffe's business ventures were the subject of attacks by Republicans during his 2013 run for governor. His opponent, then-Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, released eight years of his entire tax returns to the public and called on McAuliffe to do the same. McAuliffe instead released the overall summaries for three years which outlined his income, but did not detail the source of that income.
    McAuliffe aides point out that the public release of tax returns by candidates is not required under Virginia law and the governor regularly files state election financial disclosure forms.
    Cooper accused Justice Department officials who leaked the report of being on a political witch hunt.
    "This is being done by the very people who are entrusted to uphold the laws of the United States," he said. "Which is distressing."
    He believes it will be only be a matter of time before McAuliffe's name is cleared.
    "This is really foul of the way they should do things, I hope to wrap this up and the governor can go on doing his job," he said.