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Ray LaHood, U.S. secretary of transportation, speaks during the U.S. Export-Import Bank annual conference in Washington, D.C., on April 5, 2013. Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Former U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood took $50,000 from an associate of a Lebanese-Nigerian billionaire at the center of a sprawling scheme of illegal foreign campaign contributions, federal prosecutors revealed Wednesday.

Why it matters: LaHood, a former Republican congressman from Illinois and a member of President Obama's Cabinet, agreed to repay the money, pay a $40,000 fine and cooperate with prosecutors to settle the matter. The Justice Department detailed the illicit campaign donation scheme in a statement on Wednesday.

What's happening: According to a DOJ news release, LaHood's conduct was a "separate and unrelated matter" from the campaign finance violations.

  • The point of overlap was a Virginia businessman named Toufic Baaklini, who loaned LaHood $50,000 in 2012, while he was in office. LaHood did not disclose the loan in ethics filings.
  • According to prosecutors, LaHood "understood at the time" that the money was actually coming from a Baalkini associate named Gilbert Chagoury, and "made misleading statements to FBI agents" investigating the payment.

Chagoury is a Lebanese-Nigerian billionaire whom the State Department denied entry into the U.S. in 2015.

  • According to the DOJ, Chagoury — with the assistance of Baaklini and another associate named Joseph Arsan — orchestrated a massive scheme to illegally funnel foreign money into U.S. elections.
  • In a deferred prosecution agreement, Chagoury admitted to providing $180,000 to U.S. individuals who used the money to make contributions to four federal political candidates from 2012 through 2016. The campaigns that benefitted are not named, nor are the "straw" donors, or the donors who illicitly funneled Chagoury's money to those campaigns.

Chagoury was a major donor to the Clinton Foundation, and donated nearly half a million dollars to a Clinton-aligned voter registration group during President Clinton's 1996 reelection campaign.

  • Baaklini, a Virginia resident, preferred backing Republicans. Campaign finance records show a number of small contributions to President Trump's reelection campaign last year.
  • In 2016, when the alleged straw donation scheme took place, Baaklini gave to a number of GOP campaigns and party committees.
  • He also chipped in $2,700 to the House campaign of LaHood's son Darin, who now represents the same seat his father once did.

Go deeper

Judge voids 2016 Trump campaign staffer's non-disclosure agreement

Former President Trump during the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida, in February. Photo: Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A non-disclosure agreement signed by a 2016 Trump campaign staffer cannot be enforced because it's too vague, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.

Why it matters: The case of former Hispanic outreach director Jessica Denson, who in a separate suit in 2017 alleged she experienced discrimination and harassment on the campaign, is one of several where Trump "went after former aides that criticized him or his campaign" in order to "silence" them, the New York Times notes.

Several states declare emergency over Colonial Pipeline shutdown

A sign warns consumers on the avaliability of gasoline at a RaceTrac gas station in Smyrna, Georgia, on May 11. The average national price of gasoline has risen to $2.985 a gallon, Bloomberg notes. Photo: Elijah Nouvelage/AFP via Getty Images

Reports of fuel shortages across the U.S. emerged on Tuesday as the national average for gasoline prices soared to its highest level since 2014 amid a key fuel pipeline shut down, per Bloomberg.

What's happening: Operator Colonial Pipeline aims to have service restored by the week's end following last Friday's ransomware attack that shut down some 5,500 miles of pipeline from Texas to New Jersey. The governors of Florida, Georgia, Virginia and North Carolina declared states of emergency Tuesday due to shortage concerns.

Reports: More than 100 Republicans threaten to form 3rd party over Trump

Former President Trump addressing the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida, in February. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

More than 100 Republicans will sign a letter Thursday threatening to create a third party if the GOP doesn't "break" with former President Trump, Reuters first reported.

Why it matters: Per Axios' Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei, Trump's grip on the GOP has gotten stronger since the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. The Republican Party's "allegiance to Trump" as he continues to make false claims about his 2020 election loss has "dismayed" the group, according to Reuters.