Sen. Ben Sasse presses ODNI nominee over his work for Huawei

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Senator Ben Sasse Tuesday raised concern over a work done for Chinese telecom company Huawei by a White House nominee to a key intelligence post.

At a Senate Intelligence hearing Tuesday for Christopher Fonzone’s nomination as Office of the Director of National Intelligence general counsel, the Nebraska Republican asked Fonzone about Huawei’s link to China’s oppression of its Uyghur minority.

“What do you think of the role that they’ve played in the Chinese Communist Party’s genocide in Xinjiang?” Sasse asked. 

Huawei has been heavily sanctioned by the U.S. government, after accusations that its infrastructure equipment enables the Chinese Communist Party to surveil users. 

Fonzone, who served as a legal adviser to the National Security Council under President Obama, advised Huawei on U.S. law in 2018, and says he performed less than 10 hours of work for the CCP-linked conglomerate. 

The nominee said he was aware of DNI Avril Haines’ assessment that Huawei poses a “significant counterintelligence risk” and vowed he would use the latest intelligence available in any legal analysis. 

“I’m trying to ask a different question. I’m trying to ask why would you make a decision to work for Huawei given who they are,” Sasse said.

“My firm asked if I would help address some questions on how U.S. administrative law works. I did a very small amount of analysis with respect to that question, less than 10 hours,” Fonzone replied. 

“Who did you think they [Huawei] were? Because they’re the bad guys,” Sasse pressed. 

“I did the work I did because a partner asked me to help a company understand U.S. law and that’s the advice I provided in a very small amount of work and there’s been no follow up with it since then,” Fonzone replied.

“This is a company that’s involved in genocide and this is a company that habitually, systematically is involved in stealing IP from U.S. companies,” Sasse said in response. “Helping them with rulemaking or their understanding of rulemaking is not helping a morally neutral actor and it’s not helping them comply with U.S. law, it’s helping them figure out how they can skirt U.S. law.”

The company has denied U.S. accusations that it is controlled by the ruling Communist Party or facilitates Chinese spying.

After the hearing, Sasse said that Fonzone should not be confirmed to the role. “This is straightforward: You can get a Senate-confirmed national security position or you can work for the Chinese Communist Party and its national champions like Huawei, but you shouldn’t do both,” the senator said in a statement to Fox News. 

“Fonzone has earned praise for his national security experience – but that experience should have led him to politely decline an assignment to help Huawei. America’s message to the world should be clear: technological ties with the Chinese Communist Party are a national security risk.”

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