Why the latest Hillary Clinton conspiracy might not be what it seems

Donald Trump and Republican supporters have been feasting on a Wall Street Journal story about campaign contributions that Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe authorized last year in a Northern Virginia state Senate race.

McAuliffe, of course, is a confidant of the Clinton family. And the candidate his PAC showered $452,500 on, Jill McCabe of Loudoun County, is married to FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe — who oversaw the bureau’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was at the State Department. The state Democratic Party gave McCabe’s campaign another $207,788, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.

Trump tweeted out the story Sunday night when it broke.

And on Monday afternoon, at a rally in St. Augustine, Fla., Trump brought up the donations from McAuliffe and the Virginia Democratic Party. He called them “absolutely disgraceful” and claimed, “we've never had a thing like this in the history of our country.”

Trump alleged without presenting evidence that, “Hillary knew this money was being paid.” As he has repeatedly done throughout his campaign, Trump insisted that the FBI investigation into Clinton's use of a personal email server was “rigged.”

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus also said: “Given all we know about how the corrupt Clinton machine operates, it’s hard not to see this as anything other than a down payment to influence the FBI’s criminal investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server.”

But this one may be less than it appears. State Republican officials, tellingly, are keeping a low profile, with little comment or tweeting to be found — though the state party said Monday afternoon that it was filing a Freedom of Information Act request for copies of McAuliffe emails related to McCabe.

Part of the reason is that 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 — an effort that ultimately fell one seat short.

McAuliffe’s PAC, Common Good VA, was spreading money to many candidates, as was the state Democratic Party. McCabe was not the top beneficiary; Common Good VA gave $792,000 to state Senate candidate Jeremy McPike and $770,000 to Dan Gecker, as well as lesser amounts to a host of other office-seekers.

In addition, the timing is complicated if you’re trying to prove a Clinton email connection. McAuliffe and other state Democrats — led by Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, who, like Jill McCabe, is a physician — recruited her to run for office in March 2015. At the time, her husband worked in the FBI’s Washington field office. Revelations about Clinton’s emails came to light that month, but there was no publicly known investigation.

According to the FBI, Andrew McCabe followed agency protocol and consulted with headquarters and with field office ethics authorities as soon as his wife considered running.

“When she chose to run . . . McCabe and FBI lawyers implemented a system of recusal from all FBI investigative matters involving Virginia politics, a process followed for the remainder of her campaign,” the agency said in a statement. “During the campaign, he played no role, attended no events, and did not participate in fundraising or support of any kind.”

In July 2015, Andrew McCabe was promoted to Associate Deputy Director of the FBI. McAuliffe’s PAC made small donations to his wife’s campaign in June and August, and the bulk of the contributions in October. She was defeated by Republican incumbent Richard H. Black that November.

By the time McCabe was promoted again — in February this year, to deputy director — and assumed responsibility for the Clinton email investigation, his wife had been out of politics for several months.

McAuliffe spokesman Brian Coy said the governor would’ve had to have a time machine to know all the connections that would develop. The contributions, he said, were routine. “It is a customary practice when governors . . . recruit or encourage a candidate to run on their ticket that they commit to support them,” he said. “It’s an age-old practice, common for both parties in every state in the country.”

Matt Zapotosky and Sean Sullivan contributed to this report.

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