National Security

Republicans press FBI for briefing on efforts by Chinese government operatives to gain influence with lawmakers

Greg Nash

House Republicans are pressing the FBI to provide a briefing on efforts by the Chinese government to install operatives in places where they can gain both access and influence with members of Congress, raising concern that lawmakers could be compromised without knowing it. 

Republicans on the House Oversight and Reform Committee, led by ranking member Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), asked FBI Director Christopher Wray in a letter Monday for the bureau to provide a staff-level briefing by next week about China’s efforts to target lawmakers. 

“Depending on the total number of active CCP operatives and the breadth of the [Ministry of State Security] operation across our country, any number of elected officials could potentially be compromised without even knowing it,” the Republicans wrote, referring to the Chinese Communist Party. “Going forward, understanding the scope of the CCP’s whole operation is critical to combating and preventing any future attempts to undermine our U.S. government institutions.”

Their letter to Wray centered heavily on a recent Axios investigative report that found that a woman named Fang Fang or Christine Fang, who was suspected of working as a Chinese intelligence operative, allegedly targeted various local and national politicians in the Bay Area between 2011 to 2015, including Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.).

Fang reportedly helped Swalwell’s fundraising efforts during his 2014 reelection campaign and she also helped place an unpaid intern inside of the Democrat’s office, though she is not believed to have gained access to any classified information.

The FBI gave Swalwell a defensive briefing about their suspicions of Fang, which led him to immediately cut ties with her, according to the report. Swalwell’s office has said that he provided information about this person to the FBI. 

A current U.S. intelligence official told Axios that Swalwell is not accused of any wrongdoing related to Fang’s alleged activities.

And an FBI official familiar with the probe told the San Francisco Chronicle that Swalwell was “completely cooperative and under no suspicion of wrongdoing.”

“It was a defensive briefing. Information was obtained where we do a duty to warn … that he may be targeted by a foreign government,” the official told the Chronicle. 

“Just this past week, it was revealed that a U.S. Representative with access to sensitive information developed a close relationship with an undercover Chinese spy,” Comer said in a statement, while pointing to his committee’s work of examining CCP’s infiltration of U.S. institutions. 

“We must ensure Members of Congress remain uncompromised from the attempts of our adversaries to plunder classified intelligence and influence American leadership,” Comer added.

Following the report, Swalwell, a prominent Trump critic, immediately received criticism from GOP critics, with some calling for him to be kicked off the House Intelligence Committee, a panel he served on after the Fang ordeal.

Democrats, meanwhile, defended Swalwell from the blowback, stating that it is incredibly difficult to determine the motives of people they meet on the campaign trail since their jobs include glad-handing with constituents and business leaders. 

Swalwell has also blamed the Trump administration for the intelligence leak, citing his criticism of the president. 

“I’ve been a critic of the president. I’ve spoken out against him. I was on both committees that worked to impeach him,” Swalwell told Politico last week. “The timing feels like that should be looked at.”

While the GOP Oversight letter did not name Swalwell specifically, the letter noted his current committees.

The operative targeted primarily Democrat politicians in the San Francisco area, but also around the country,” they said. Fang Fang gained influence through campaigning, fundraising, and cultivating romantic relationships with elected officials and their staff.

While Fang left the U.S. in 2015 amid the federal investigation into her activities, she also reportedly had romantic relationships with at least two Midwestern mayors, according to Axios.

The letter also comes after Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe warned in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece last week that operatives for the Chinese government were seeking to influence U.S. officials through maligned foreign influence. 

GOP members of the Oversight panel who serve as ranking members of various subcommittees also signed the letter: Reps. Jody Hice (Ga.), Chip Roy (Texas), Mark Green (Tenn.), Glenn Grothman (Wis.) and Michael Cloud (Texas).

Tags Chip Roy Christopher Wray Eric Swalwell Glenn Grothman James Comer Jody Hice John Ratcliffe Mark Green
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