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PolitiFact VA: Carroll Foy Claims FBI Investigations of Governors Show Corruption

Woman stands at lecturn
Jennifer Carroll Foy speaks at a 2020 Climate Action Rally, prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in Virginia. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Speaker: Jennifer Carroll Foy
Statement: “Two out of our last three governors in Virginia have been investigated by the FBI; one went to jail…”
Date: March 16, 2021.
Setting: Democratic debate.

Democrat Jennifer Carroll Foy said a key reason she’s running for governor is to rid Virginia's government of corruption.

“Two out of our last three governors in Virginia were investigated by the FBI,” she said during a March 16 debate. “One went to jail and one is running for office again in this election.”

A fact check of Carroll Foy’s statement finds she’s right on the FBI probes, but wrong in saying one of the governors was locked up.

Republican Bob McDonnell was investigated by the FBI, and his case had enormous consequences. Ten days after his term expired in 2014, McDonnell was indicted on federal corruption charges for accepting $165,000 in gifts and loans from businessman Jonnie Williams Sr.. In exchange, authorities said McDonnell used the influence of the governor’s office to promote Williams’ diet supplement business. McDonnell was found guilty on 11 counts of corruption and, in January 2015, was sentenced to two years in prison by Senior U.S. District Judge James Spencer.

But contrary to Carroll Foy’s statement, McDonnell never spent a day in prison. He remained free through his appeals and, in June 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously vacated his conviction, saying some of the courtesies McDonnell gave Williams, such as setting up meetings with state officials who were in a position to help Williams’ business, did not qualify as an “official act” of corruption despite McDonnell’s acceptance gifts. Prosecutors declined to try McDonnell again under a more narrow definition of corruption.

Sharon Yang, a spokesperson for Carroll Foy, said the candidate “misspoke” in saying McDonnell went to jail

Democrat Terry McAuliffe was also investigated by the FBI during his gubernatorial term from 2013-2017, but he was never accused of wrongdoing - an important fact Carroll Foy omits. McAuliffe is running for his old office again this year. Virginia does not allow its governors to serve successive terms.

News of the investigation broke on May 23, 2016 and McAuliffe professed “shock,” saying he knew nothing about it. James W. Cooper, McAuliffe’s private lawyer, said two days later that the FBI was looking into whether McAuliffe - before becoming governor - had accepted foreign money to lobby without telling federal government.

McAuliffe was not indicted and news about the probe quickly fizzled out. We asked the FBI if the probe was active and were told the agency does not confirm or deny the existence of any investigation.

“Nothing came of the investigation and it’s not ongoing.” said Jake Rubenstein, a McAuliffe spokesman.

Our ruling:
Carroll Foy said, “Two out of our last three governors in Virginia were investigated by the FBI. One went to jail and one is running for office again in this election.”

She’s right that McDonnell and McAuliffe were investigated by the FBI during their terms, but Carroll Foy omits that McAuliffe was never accused of wrongdoing. McDonnell, on the other hand, was convicted of corruption and sentenced to two years in prison. The Supreme Court vacated his conviction, however, and McDonnell never spent a moment behind bars. Carroll Foy’s campaign acknowledges she misspoke on this part of her claim.

Overall, we rate Carroll Foy’s statement Half True.

Jennifer Carroll Foy, Debate remarks, March 16, 2021 (1:40:32 mark).
Email from Sharon Yang, spokesperson for Carroll Foy, March 31, 2016.
The Washington Post, “ McAuliffe in ‘shock’ over FBI investigation of campaign money, personal finances,” May 24, 2016.
Daily Press, “ Update: McAuliffe attorney says FBI investigation is not about campaign contributions,” May 26, 2016.
The Washington Post, Robert M. McDonnell indictment, Jan. 21, 2021.
Interview with Jake Rubenstein, spokesman for Terry McAuliffe, April 2, 2021.
The New York Times, “ Supreme Court Vacates Ex-Virginia Governor’s Graft Conviction,” June 27, 2016.
Richmond Times-Dispatch, “ Verdicts in the McDonnell Trial,” Sept. 4, 2014.

*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misspelled Jake Rubenstein's name. We have corrected it.