Christopher Fonzone, President Joe Biden’s nominee to serve as the general counsel for Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Avril Haines, previously worked for the Chinese government and Chinese telecom giant Huawei, and would not vow against doing so once again.
During a May 18 Senate Intelligence Committee hearing Fonzone described his work for Huawei saying, “In 2018, the firm asked for help in answering general questions from the client about how U.S. administrative law works – specifically in the context of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and the subsequent rule-making – including the mechanics of the when and how judicial review might occur. I did less than ten hours of work on the questions and provided my analysis to colleagues at the firm, and have received no follow up since.”
In follow up questions, Fonzone admitted in some instances he had turned declined to work on specific issues at Sidley, but not when dealing with work for Hauwei and the Chinese government.
When asked to commit to not take on the Chinese Communist Party or Chinese tech companies in the future Fonzone 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.”
Fonzone, who served from 2013 until the end of President Barack Obama’s presidency as a legal adviser for the National Security Council (NSC) disclosed he worked for the global Sidley Austin law firm. At the law firm, Fonzone did what he called limited work in 2018 for Huawei and China’s Ministry of Commerce, the Washington Examiner reported.
Under President Donald Trump, Huawei was charged by the Department of Justice in February 2020 with conspiracy to steal trade secrets. The Biden Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has also maintained a Trump-era designation labeling Huawei a national security threat.
Huawei has come under new scrutiny in the U.S. in recent years. The company has reportedly helped develop surveillance tools partner governments have used to spy on political dissidents. Last year, U.S. officials also warned that Huawei has also reportedly built-in tools in its telecommunications networks that could allow it to access private information.
Fonzone’s involvement with the Chinese government and Hauwei and his stance on whether he would work with similar clients in the future earned him opposition from Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Sen. Marco Rubio said, “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.”
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) said Wednesday, “You can’t work for Huawei and then work for the Director of National Intelligence. 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.”
Sasse said, “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.”
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) also said, “Mr. Fonzone left the National Security Council to represent the Chinese government and a company key to the Chinese Communist Party’s military and espionage apparatus — then refused to commit to avoiding any such conflict of interest if confirmed for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The United States must take unified steps to combat the CCP, not put its employees and contractors in positions of power with access to sensitive information.”
Fonzone’s nomination was voted through the Senate Intelligence Committee in a 12-4 decision. If confirmed by the Senate, Fonzone would serve DNI Haines, overseeing the nation’s 18 intelligence agencies.