Trump risks clash with Congress over Chinese executive

President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate GOP budget ignores Trump, cuts defense Trump says he'll nominate Stephen Moore to Fed White House: ISIS territory in Syria has been 100 percent eliminated MORE's threat to intervene in the arrest of a Chinese tech executive is setting the stage for a fight between the White House and Republican lawmakers.

The arrest of Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou in Canada earlier this month was largely met with praise in Washington, D.C., including from top Republicans like Sens. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzCNN town halls put network at center of Dem primary The Memo: Trump can't let go of McCain grudge Michael Bennet 'encouraged' in possible presidential bid: report MORE (R-Texas) and Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioThe Hill's Morning Report — Washington readies for Mueller end game GOP eager to exploit Dem court-packing fight Rubio's pragmatic thinking on China MORE (R-Fla.). Meng is facing extradition to the U.S. for allegedly violating trade sanctions against Iran.

ADVERTISEMENT

Trump though rattled lawmakers and aides when he offered to help resolve the case if it gets him a trade deal with China.

Trump told Reuters this week that Meng could be released if it was "good for what will be certainly the largest trade deal ever made."

“Well, it’s possible that a lot of different things could happen. It’s also possible it will be a part of negotiations,” Trump said during the interview. “But we’ll speak to the Justice Department, we’ll speak to them, we’ll get a lot of people involved.”

The remarks shocked Capitol Hill and brought criticism from both parties.

A spokesperson for Rubio said in an email that the senator “believes the case is unrelated to trade policy, and that it would be a mistake for President Trump to intervene.”

Even before Trump's remarks, Rubio had tweeted that Meng's arrest “has nothing to do with a trade war with #China.”

“It’s an action by federal prosecutors for alleged violations of law, not leverage in a trade dispute,” Rubio wrote in response to a New York Times report tying the arrest to the trade dispute. “And unlike China, she will have the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise.”

The Republican senator also said on CBS's "Face the Nation" last week that he is planning on reintroducing legislation to ban Huawei and similar Chinese firms from doing business with the U.S. federal government.

“Huawei and ZTE and multiple Chinese companies pose a threat to our national interests, our national economic interests and our national security interests,” he said at the time.

Rubio originally introduced the legislation with Sen. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonSenate rejects border declaration in major rebuke of Trump Hillicon Valley: Doctors press tech to crack down on anti-vax content | Facebook, Instagram suffer widespread outages | Spotify hits Apple with antitrust complaint | FCC rejects calls to delay 5G auction Senate votes to confirm Neomi Rao to appeals court MORE (R-Ark.) earlier this year.

Cotton, a strong ally of the president, has also been highly critical of Chinese companies like Huawei and ZTE, calling them “nothing more than extensions of the Chinese Communist Party.”

Cotton declined to comment to The Hill when asked about Trump’s threat to intervene in the Huawei case.

Chinese telecommunications firms have faced intense scrutiny over the potential risk they pose to national security, with lawmakers and officials alike saying the companies are inextricably tied to the Chinese state government and their interests.

It's also not the first time Trump has clashed with Congress over Chinese tech companies.

Earlier this year, the president was at odds with lawmakers from both parties after the Commerce Department sanctioned Chinese tech firm ZTE for working with Iran and North Korea. Trump though called the sanctions too harsh and worked out a plan to save the company.

Those actions triggered an immediate backlash from both sides of the aisle. Senators passed a version of the defense policy bill that included a measure blocking Trump's plan to rescue ZTE. Lawmakers ultimately avoided a fight with Trump, sending the bill to his desk with language that instead barred the U.S. government from using ZTE products.

This time though, Republican lawmakers are signaling they are ready to take on the president when it comes to cracking down on Chinese firms.

“I think it’s now on the criminal justice realm and beyond executive control so I don’t know what he has in mind,” Sen. John CornynJohn CornynSenate GOP poised to go 'nuclear' on Trump picks GOP rep to introduce constitutional amendment to limit Supreme Court seats to 9 Court-packing becomes new litmus test on left MORE (R-Texas), the Senate majority whip, said Thursday. “But I hope [Trump would] let the courts and the DOJ work through the process.”

Cruz has also been fiercely critical of the Chinese tech firm. He tweeted at the time of Meng’s arrest that Huawei is a “Communist Party spy agency thinly vieled [sic] as a telecom company.”

“The Chinese Communist Party cannot risk damage to their reputation that the transparency of a trial will bring, and they will do everything possible to intimidate the Canadian government to send her back to China,” he wrote. “Our ally Canada must stand strong and extradite her to the United States, where she will face something China does not have: a fair, impartial justice system.”

Cruz also pressed government officials at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday on the role of Chinese firms, and specifically Huawei, in spying on the U.S. and its allies.

Democrats also were quick to raise concerns about the implications of Trump intervening.

“The fact is that the administration was strong on ZTE until the Chinese put pressure and they buckled,” Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerHillicon Valley: Kushner accused of using WhatsApp, personal email for official work | White House rejects request for Trump-Putin communications | Facebook left 'hundreds of millions' of passwords unsecured | Tech pressured to root out extremism Lawmakers urge tech to root out extremism after New Zealand Dems request probe into spa owner suspected of trying to sell access to Trump MORE (D-Va.), the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Thursday. “I’d be curious to see if [Trump] buckles again.”

At the hearing on Chinese economic espionage, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said he was “disturbed” by the president’s comment, saying the remark “makes it look like law enforcement is a tool of either trade or other political or diplomatic ends of this country.”

“And that may be true in other countries, but not in this one,” he added.

At the hearing on Chinese economic espionage, John Demers, the assistant attorney general at DOJ's national security division, told lawmakers he couldn’t comment on a pending criminal case like Meng’s.

However, he reiterated that the Justice Department oversees law enforcement, and not trade policy.

"We follow the facts and vindicate violations of U.S. law. That’s what we’re doing when we bring those cases and I think it’s very important for other countries to understand that,” Demers said.

The drama over Huawei is coming amid larger tensions with China over trade and economic espionage.

Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed earlier this month to a 90-day truce on new tariffs after months of hitting each other with escalating trade penalties.

And Trump on Friday celebrated China’s decision to freeze a three-month long tariff hike on American-made automobiles.

“China wants to make a big and very comprehensive deal. It could happen, and rather soon!” he tweeted.

Trump cited that trade deal during his interview with Reuters as a reason why he could intervene in the Huawei case.

Experts say it would be possible for Trump to stop the prosecution of Meng’s case. However, they warn that it could set a dangerous precedent.

Lisa Monaco, former assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism and former assistant attorney general for national security during the Obama administration, said in an email that Trump could legally request that the Justice Department drop the charges against Meng that led to her arrest in Canada.

But Monaco cautioned that move “would be wrong.”

“It would be completely outside any acceptable norm,” Monaco said. “It would prompt a significant confrontation with the Justice Department and the prosecutors there and it would be open season on our own executives to be detained and hassled in other countries that want to get leverage in trade talks."

All sides in the controversy are now waiting for Trump's next move.

Canada on Friday warned the administration not to make the arrest a political issue.

"Canada understands the rule of law," Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said, after a meeting with Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisOvernight Defense: Pentagon chief under investigation over Boeing ties | Trump uses visual aids to tout progress against ISIS | Pentagon, Amnesty International spar over civilian drone deaths Pentagon watchdog probing whether acting chief boosted Boeing Overnight Defense: Judge says Trump can't implement transgender policy | Trump floats admitting Brazil to NATO | Mattis returning to Stanford MORE and Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoThe Hill's Morning Report — Washington readies for Mueller end game 2020 Dems avoid this year's AIPAC conference Pompeo says it's 'possible' God planned Trump to save Jewish people MORE.

"Extradition ought not ever to be politicized or used as tools to resolve other issues," she added.