GOP senators raise alarm about Biden nominee's past work connected to China

"You can't work for Huawei and then work for the Director of National Intelligence," Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska said.
Huawei logo in Las Vegas in 2018

Senate Republicans are raising alarm because President Biden's nominee to serve as general counsel for Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines has previously engaged in work connected to the Chinese company Huawei as well as work connected to the Ministry of Commerce of the People's Republic of China.

After working as an NSC legal adviser during a portion of the Obama administration, Christopher Fonzone worked as a partner at the Sidney Austin law firm where he participated in fewer than 10 hours worth of work related to Huawei that involved answering questions regarding how American administrative law works. In connection with his work at the law firm he also engaged in some work pertaining to the Chinese Ministry of Commerce.

The Washington Examiner reported that when questioned about whether he would pledge that following his departure from the ODNI he will not accept clients on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party or its "tech champions" such as Huawei, he said: "I do not have plans for what I would do after service in government, if confirmed, but commit to following all post-government ethics rules and restrictions."

"You can't work for Huawei and then work for the Director of National Intelligence," Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska said. "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. In fact, today he told the committee that he had declined to work on certain cases for ethical reasons -- but he didn't decline Huawei and I'm not sure how on earth it's ethical to work for a company that's a key player in the Chinese Communist Party's genocide of the Uyghurs. He says that he was just helping them understand American regulations, but he knows full well that the Chinese Communist Party isn't interested in following the law -- they're interested in skirting the law. Even today Mr. Fonzone still refuses to commit to not work for the CCP or national champion clients like Huawei after leaving his next stint in government. Mr. Fonzone has impressive national security experience and that is exactly what makes his extremely poor judgment so concerning."

"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," said Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. "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 judgment and decision making, especially considering his previous national security roles in government. His evasiveness and unwillingness to answer direct questions on the real nature of the Chinese threat is disqualifying, especially given the importance of the position President Biden has nominated him to fill. Moving forward, I hope those that wish to enter or return to public service will think more carefully about working on behalf of clients who exploit our legal system in an effort to weaken and ultimately replace America on the world stage."