Should Eric Swalwell Be Removed From the Intelligence Committee Due to His Ties to a Suspected Chinese Spy?
Should Swalwell be removed from the House Intelligence Committee?
What’s the story?
- Following an investigative report by Axios that revealed a suspected Chinese spy’s relationship to Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA), Republican members of Congress have called for Swalwell to be investigated and removed from the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
- The spy’s efforts are part of a broader effort by China to influence U.S. lawmakers and encourage them to take positions favorable to the regime in Beijing.
What happened between Swalwell and the spy?
- The alleged Chinese agent, a woman in her late 20’s or early 30’s called Christine Fang, or Fang Fang, sought to obtain political intelligence on rising politicians and came to know Swalwell while he was serving as a city councilor in Dublin, California, prior to his election to Congress in 2012.
- Fang was enrolled as a student at a university in the Bay Area and used conferences, rallies, and campus events to gather information on local politicians.
- Officials don’t believe that Fang received or relayed classified information, but suspect that her efforts were focused on learning about the habits, preferences, networks, schedules, and rumors surrounding the politicians she was involved with for China’s Ministry of State Security (MSS), the country’s lead civilian spy agency.
- Fang was a fundraising “bundler” for Swalwell during his 2014 re-election campaign and provided similar services to other Bay Area politicians, raising large sums of money for their campaigns.
- Bundlers can wield a significant amount of influence with the politicians they support, and Axios reported that Fang helped place at least one intern in Swalwell’s office.
- Fang herself doesn’t appear to have made donations, which would’ve been illegal due to her status as a foreign national, and the donations she bundled weren’t flagged by the Federal Elections Commission as improper.
- After Swalwell was re-elected, he was placed on the House Intelligence Committee in 2015 and has remained on the committee in the years since. Positions on the congressional intelligence committees are highly coveted by lawmakers and typically go to former national security professionals and veterans, although Swalwell has no background in those fields.
- Investigators became aware of Fang’s activities through surveillance of a suspected MSS officer working undercover as a diplomat at the San Francisco Consulate. They became alarmed by Fang’s activities and her connection to Swalwell, so in 2015 they alerted the congressman to their concerns through what’s known as a defensive briefing. Swalwell cooperated with the investigation and broke off ties with Fang, and she abruptly left the country in mid-2015.
- Intelligence officials told Axios that Fang’s intelligence-gathering efforts went beyond Swalwell, as they believed she was overseeing unwitting subagents who provided her with information about politicians and attended regional conferences for mayors across the country. She reportedly engaged in sexual or romantic relationships with at least two Midwestern mayors, and at least two of her sexual interactions with elected officials (including one of the Midwestern mayors) were caught on FBI electronic surveillance.
- No public charges have been filed against Fang by the Dept. of Justice (DOJ), although it’s possible that there is a sealed indictment that will remain secret until her apprehension or the conclusion of an ongoing investigation.
What they’re saying
- Swalwell’s office provided the following statement to Axios about his involvement with Fang:
“Rep. Swalwell, long ago, provided information about this person ― whom he met more than eight years ago, and whom he hasn’t seen in nearly six years ― to the FBI. To protect information that might be classified, he will not participate in your story.”
- Swalwell later gave an interview to Politico in which he declined to discuss his relationship with Fang in detail, but said his connection with her wouldn’t lead to his removal from the House Intelligence Committee because it was “something that congressional leadership knew about” when he was assigned to the committee. He also accused the Trump administration of leaking the information to hurt him politically during his brief campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.
- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said that Republican leaders were made aware of Swalwell’s ties to Fang at the same time Democratic leaders were informed, and she doesn’t have “any concern” about Swalwell’s ties to Fang.
- House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) called Swalwell’s continued presence on the House Intelligence Committee a “national security threat” and urged his immediate removal from the panel.
- A group of 17 House Republicans wrote a letter to Speaker Pelosi to press for Swalwell’s immediate removal from the committee, which read in part:
“Because of Rep. Swalwell’s position on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, his close interactions with Chinese intelligence services, however unintentional they may be, are an unacceptable national security risk. HPSCI handles some of the most sensitive information our government possesses ― information critical to our national defense. As such, we urge you to immediately remove Rep. Swalwell from his position on the House Intelligence Committee.”
- Swalwell isn’t the first prominent California Democrat to be targeted by Chinese intelligence. In 2018, it was revealed that Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) employed an undercover Chinese spy for nearly 20 years who worked as the senator’s driver and an assistant in her Bay Area office.
- Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal this summer which warned that China is continuing its influence and intelligence-gathering operations aimed at Congress:
“This year China engaged in a massive influence campaign that included targeting several dozen members of Congress and congressional aides.”
— Eric Revell
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