National Security

3 GOP senators come out against Biden intelligence nominee over Huawei ties

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Three Republican senators say they won’t back President Biden’s nominee to serve as the top lawyer for the intelligence community because of his past experience working for a Chinese company accused of intellectual property theft.

Christopher Fonzone, Biden’s pick to serve as general counsel at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), did legal work for Chinese tech giant Huawei after leaving the Obama administration’s National Security Council.

The company came under legal scrutiny starting in 2018, when Canadian authorities detained the firm’s chief financial officer at the request of the U.S. on financial fraud charges.

The U.S. government also has security concerns about Huawei due to potential ties to the Chinese government.

“You can’t work for Huawei and then work for the Director of National Intelligence,” Sen. Ben Sasse (Neb.) said in a statement Wednesday alongside fellow GOP Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Tom Cotton (Ark.).

“After Mr. Fonzone left President Obama’s National Security Council, he did legal work for Huawei. He knew exactly who Huawei is, and he knew that he didn’t have to take their money,” Sasse added.

Fonzone was associated with the company through his position at the law firm Sidley Austin, doing less than 50 hours of legal work for both Huawei and China’s Ministry of Commerce, according to a questionnaire he submitted to the Senate Intelligence Committee.

“The firm asked me to look into a question of how U.S. law works. I did a de minimis amount of work, less than 10 hours, to explain how U.S. administrative law works, I provided it to my partners, and … I’ve had no follow-up since then,” Fonzone told the Senate Intelligence Committee at a May 18 hearing to review his nomination.

Fonzone was doing work for Huawei as recently as 2019, according to National Law Journal.

Rubio on Wednesday said: “Any nominee who is up for a key national security post and comes from a law firm or other entity that performs work for the Chinese Communist Party or a Chinese state-directed entity like Huawei requires extra scrutiny.”

“Mr. Fonzone’s work on behalf of Huawei and China’s Ministry of Commerce may have been technical in nature but it raises serious questions about his judgement and decision making, especially considering his previous national security roles in government,” Rubio added.

ODNI did not respond to a request for comment.

Fonzone’s nomination was advanced Wednesday by the Senate Intelligence Committee. Four Republicans on the panel voted against him: Sasse, Rubio and Cotton and Sen. James Risch (Idaho).

A simple majority is needed to confirm a nominee on the Senate floor.

Fonzone told lawmakers earlier this month: “If I was confirmed, I would be driven by what the intelligence community’s views are on Huawei. That would underpin my analysis.”

–Updated at 11:52 a.m.

Tags Ben Sasse Huawei Joe Biden Marco Rubio Senate Intelligence Committee Tom Cotton
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