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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.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Virginia attorney general fires Jan. 6 investigator from university post

McIntire Amphitheater at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia. Photo: Robert Knopes/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The lead investigator for the Jan. 6 House select committee investigating the Capitol riot has been fired from his position as the University of Virginia's counsel by the state's new Republican attorney general, per the Washington Post.

Why it matters: Democrats say the removal of Tim Heaphy from his post after some three years while he's on leave from the university to investigate the insurrection is likely "retribution" for the House probe — an accusation strongly denied by the office of state Attorney General Jason Miyares (R).

5 hours ago - World

Taiwan's military scrambles jets after detecting 39 Chinese warplanes

J-20 stealth fighter jets in Zhuhai in the Guangdong Province of China last year. Photo: Chen Jimin/China News Service via Getty Images

Taiwan's defense force said 39 Chinese warplanes flew into its Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) on Sunday.

Why it matters: The largest Chinese air force incursion into the zone since October came a day after the U.S. and Japanese navies conducted a joint exercise in the Philippine Sea.