A Chinese national named Fang Fang, or Christine Fang, is believed to have targeted several up and coming California lawmakers, as well as mayors from at least two Midwest cities, according to current and former U.S. officials who spoke with Axios. Among those targeted was Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) who is a member of the House Intelligence Committee.
Current and former U.S. intelligence officials, and one former elected official, told Axios that Fang was able to get close to the U.S. politicians through campaign fundraising, extensive networking, personal charisma, and even through romantic and sexual relationships, as in the case of at least two Midwestern mayors.
Axios reported U.S. intelligence officials believe Fang was a member of China’s main civilian spy agency, the Ministry of State Security (MSS) and that her reason for being in the U.S. was to gather political intelligence and influence rising U.S. officials on China-related issues. The U.S. officials believe Fang was in the U.S. as part of a political intelligence operation between 2011 and 2015. The FBI began to investigate Fang and she left the country unexpectedly in mid-2015.
The findings emerged as part of a year-long investigation of Fang, in which numerous accounts of Fang’s alleged activity in the U.S. were gathered.
Former Cupertino Mayor Gilbert Wong told Axios that, at a 2014 conference in Washington D.C., an older Midwestern mayor “from an obscure city” referred to Fang as his “girlfriend” and said their relationship was genuine despite the clear age difference.
Fang was reportedly placed under FBI surveillance by 2015 and, according to one current U.S. official, was observed in a sexual encounter with an Ohio mayor in a car under electronic FBI surveillance.
Axios reported Swalwell was one of the major targets of Fang’s U.S. networking efforts. Fang was photographed in 2012 with Swalwell, who was a Dublin City Council member at the time.
Swalwell was elected as a U.S. representative from California in 2012 and took office in 2013. Fang reportedly took part in a fundraising effort tied to Swalwell’s 2014 reelection campaign, according to a Bay Area political operative and a current U.S. intelligence official. Those same two sources allege Fang helped place at least one intern in Swalwell’s office.
During his second term, Swalwell was assigned to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
A Bay Area political operative with direct knowledge of Fang’s efforts also told Axios that Fang was a “bundler” for Swalwell and other political candidates, suggesting she worked to persuade others to contribute to political campaigns. Federal Election Commission records do not indicate Fang herself made contributions to any campaigns, which foreign nationals are prohibited from doing.
In a comment to Axios, Swalwell’s office said, “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.”
In 2015, federal investigators reportedly alerted Swalwell of the counterintelligence probe against Fang, through a defensive briefing. A current U.S. official told Axios that Swalwell immediately cut off ties with Fang and that Swalwell has not been accused of any wrongdoing.
Former Fremont, California Mayor Bill Harrison told Axios, “When she left kind of abruptly, we all kind of scratched our head.”
Wong told Axios, “She disappeared off the face of everything.”
Fang did not respond to an Axios request for comment.
Fang reportedly participated in fundraising events for numerous other U.S. lawmakers, including for Rep. Ro Khanna’s (D-CA) unsuccessful 2014 House bid and a 2013 fundraiser for Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI). Fang’s name appeared on a flyer for the Gabbard fundraising event, which Fang shared to her Facebook page.
Gabbard told Axios she had “no recollection of ever meeting or talking with her, nor any recollection of her playing a major role at the fundraiser.”
Swalwell has been a frequent critic of President Donald Trump, and maintained his belief there was evidence linking Trump to Russian election interference efforts in 2016, even after Special Counsel Robert Mueller released his 2019 report, establishing no collusion between Trump and Russia.
In an interview with Politico following the Axios report, Swalwell appeared to suggest Trump was somehow linked to the Axios report.
“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. “The timing feels like that should be looked at.”
Swalwell added, “What it appears though that this person — as the story reports — was unsuccessful in whatever they were trying to do. But if intelligence officials are trying to weaponize someone’s cooperation, they are essentially seeking to do what this person was not able to do, which is to try and discredit someone.”
On Tuesday, Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy tweeted, “Rep. Swalwell has long been disqualified from serving on the Intel Committee. For years he peddled Russian disinformation for political gain. Now we find out he was involved in an effort by a reported spy to gather info for China. Swalwell is a national security liability.”
Rep. Swalwell has long been disqualified from serving on the Intel Committee. For years he peddled Russian disinformation for political gain.
Now we find out he was involved in an effort by a reported spy to gather info for China.
Swalwell is a national security liability.
— Kevin McCarthy (@GOPLeader) December 8, 2020