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Ackman's Herbalife comments not manipulative, but on border: Expert

Ackman associates questioned about Herbalife: WSJ
What's the full side of Herbalife story?
Bill Ackman: Herbalife's a criminal enterprise

Bill Ackman's comments about nutritional supplement company Herbalife do not appear to add up to market manipulation, former federal prosecutor Jacob Frenkel said Friday.

"In terms of what he has said so far, it may be borderline manipulative, but it does not yet appear to be stock manipulation because a lot of the statements he's making are general statements, but they are conclusory," Frenkel said in an interview on CNBC's "Squawk Box."

Read MoreBill Ackman: I haven't traded around Herbalife short

The FBI and federal prosecutors are investigating whether Herbalife's stock has been manipulated, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.

Sources told the publication the authorities have interviewed people connected to Ackman, who shorted Herbalife's stock and waged a public battle with the company over the course of more than two years, alleging the nutritional supplement distributor is a pyramid scheme and insisting the stock price will go to zero.

"I'm puzzled by the story. We have not heard from the FBI or Department of Justice," Ackman told CNBC. "If they have any questions for me I'm happy to answer them. I stand by every statement I've made about Herbalife. The company has never identified anything we've said that is false."

Ackman took a short position against Herbalife in May 2012, and went public with it the following December.

What followed was a contentious period during which Ackman came under fire from Herbalife and other well-known investors, including Third Point founder Dan Loeb and billionaire investor Carl Icahn. Ackman aggressively defended his position—including during an on-air battle with Icahn during CNBC's "Fast Money: Halftime Report."

In February, the Pershing Square Capital Management founder told CNBC he was through with disclosing his short positions to the public.

Read MoreAckman: After Herbalife, I'm done with 'public shorts'

Frenkel said Ackman's campaign against Herbalife was notable for its highly public profile.

The real quality short sellers do a lot of this work behind the scenes," he said. "They're trying to get their message to the government to understand their analysis to understand why the company is not as strong as the company wants the public to believe."

Feds probe Herbalife

In March 2014, Herbalife announced that the Federal Trade Commission had opened an investigation into its business model.

It is not terribly likely that continuing to build on short positions can be considered manipulative because the government does not disclose the progress of its investigation to the short sellers or those working on their behalf, said Frenkel, a partner at law firm Shulman Rogers.

"What they're looking at is whether there was any materially false or misleading information that was being given to the government for the purpose of helping to drive the stock, because there's clearly pecuniary interest," Frenkel said.

Read MoreFeds interview Ackman allies over Herbalife: DJ

Ron Geffner, former SEC enforcement attorney, told "Squawk Box" the case is likely going nowhere and represents the cost of doing business for Pershing Square.

He said that Ackman would likely avoid any possible charges of stock manipulation so long as investigators determined he genuinely believed his comments on Herbalife were true. It would be challenging for prosecutors to find a "smoking gun" that proves Ackman or his associates had no fundamental belief behind the research or statements they released publicly or presented to regulators, he added.

Authorities will also seek to determine whether a group of people acted in concert to drive down the price of Herbalife's stock, he said.

Herbalife also weighed in on the investigation on Thursday, saying in a statement, "Mr. Ackman has a $1 billion bet against Herbalife, and a direct financial interest in hurting our company. For more than two years, he has spent over $75 million orchestrating a false and fabricated attack against Herbalife, all in an effort to enrich himself,"

CNBC's Andrew Ross Sorkin contributed to this report.