Top law enforcement officials on Wednesday pushed back on comments from President Donald Trump suggesting the prosecution of a Chinese telecommunications executive could be used as leverage in trade negotiations.
“What I do, what we do at the Justice Department, is law enforcement. We don’t do trade,” assistant Attorney General John Demers, the department’s top national security official, said at a Senate hearing.
“We follow the facts and we vindicate violations of US law. That’s what we’re doing when we bring those cases, and I think it’s very important for other countries to understand that we are not a tool of trade when we bring the cases,” he added.
Demers said Wednesday that if Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou is extradited from Canada, as the US has requested, “our criminal case will continue,” he said. He declined to comment further on the case.
In an interview with Reuters Tuesday, Trump said he would intervene in the case against Meng if it proved beneficial in securing a trade deal that has splintered relations between the two countries in recent months.
“Whatever’s good for this country, I would do,” Trump said. “If I think it’s good for what will be certainly the largest trade deal ever made – which is a very important thing – what’s good for national security, I would certainly intervene if I thought it was necessary.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, called the comments “extremely disturbing.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony Wednesday from Demers and other top counterintelligence and cybersecurity officials on Chinese espionage threats.
Bill Priestap, the FBI assistant director in charge of the counterintelligence division, detailed law enforcement’s concerns with Huawei, noting that Chinese cybersecurity laws allow the country to exploit data from some of their companies, like Huawei, “however they want.”
“With Huawei’s growing position globally and other telecomms, we have to understand that that means the company, the user data that those companies possess, can be utilized by the Chinese government in whatever manner possible. To me that’s extremely worrisome,” Priestap said.
Regarding Trump’s comments, Priestap said the FBI would simply follow the motto “do your job.”
“From the FBI’s end, we’re going to continue to do our job,” he said.
Meng was arrested earlier this month at an airport in Vancouver, Canada, at the request of the US government, authorities have said.
Meng is accused of helping Huawei get around US sanctions on Iran by telling financial institutions such as HSBC that a Huawei subsidiary, Skycom, was a separate and unaffiliated company.
On Tuesday, Meng stepped out of detention after 10 days behind bars when a judge in Canada approved her release on $10 million Canadian bail ($7.5 million US).