On Tuesday, news began spreading that California Democrat Rep. Eric Swalwell — a former presidential contender best known for his gun control agenda and outspoken criticism of President Trump — accepted campaign contributions bundled by a suspected Chinese spy who also placed an intern in his office.
Optics-wise, the Axios report wasn’t spectacular for the liberal lawmaker, but at least at the moment no one is saying Swalwell or his campaign broke any laws. Swalwell was briefed by the FBI in 2015 and reportedly cut off all ties with the suspected operative — known as Fang Fang or Christine Fang — who was allegedly part of a Chinese Communist Party initiative to make inroads into American politics.
Fang, who posed as a student at a Bay Area university, fundraised for Swalwell, and Hawaii Democrat Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. Fang also volunteered for Democrat Rohit Khanna’s unsuccessful 2014 House of Representatives bid. (He’d be elected in 2016.) In addition to her activities in the Bay Area, Fang attended mayoral conferences across the United States to grow her network.
The Swalwell fundraising took place during the congressman’s 2014 re-election campaign and had nothing to do with Swalwell’s presidential run. Furthermore, Fang didn’t directly donate to the Swalwell campaign, which would have been illegal since she was a foreign national.
“Swalwell was completely cooperative and under no suspicion of wrongdoing” when he was briefed by federal law enforcement, an FBI official said, according to Fox News. “It was a defensive briefing. Information was obtained where we do a duty to warn … that he may be targeted by a foreign government.”
So naturally, we know who’s responsible for all of this information coming out now: President Donald Trump.
“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 said in a Tuesday interview, according to Politico.
“The timing feels like that should be looked at.”
The suspected operative, a Chinese national named Christine Fang, enrolled as a student at Cal State East Bay in 2011.
Fang’s friends and acquaintances said she was in her late 20s or early 30s, though she looked younger and blended in well with the undergraduate population. pic.twitter.com/cDhp8s8CTa
— B. Allen-Ebrahimian (@BethanyAllenEbr) December 8, 2020
No evidence exists that Fang’s activities made any substantive difference in Swalwell’s positions toward China, and some of the more salacious allegations regarding Fang — she had sex with at least two Midwestern mayors — involve Swalwell himself.
The findings came about as the result of a year-long investigation by Axios — but, not only should the timing be looked at carefully, according to Swalwell, we should also view this as an attack laundered through the pages of Axios.
“What it appears though that this person — as the story reports — was unsuccessful in whatever they were trying to do,” Swalwell told Politico.
“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.”
Furthermore, Swalwell refused to discuss what kind of relationship he might have had with Fang — and he’s confident it won’t affect his position on the House Intelligence Committee.
“As the story referenced, this goes back to the beginning of the last decade, and it’s something that congressional leadership knew about it,” he said.
If you’re a political strategist or a public relations specialist and see the method behind the madness — how this is making Swalwell’s position any better? — feel free to drop me a line, because I’m having a difficult time figuring out how this could have gone any worse for Swalwell short of a hypothetical situation where receipts from his hourly stays at the No-Tell Motel with Fang fell out of his pocket during the interview.
I suspect those theoretical assignations never took place and no one has insinuated Swalwell did anything wrong. The only sign that his story wasn’t entirely on the up-and-up is that Swalwell’s dad and brother were still friends with Fang on Facebook before the news broke, according to Fox News. (If you had to ask, they aren’t anymore.)
Even then, we all have unctuous friends on social media that we haven’t purged. It’s a busy news cycle; if Swalwell had just shut up and let every other story wash over his brief fundraising relationship with Fang, no one would have cared.
Instead, Swalwell’s story is that Axios — not known to be a kennel of rabid pro-GOP attack dogs lying in wait to rip any stray anti-Trumper’s innards out — released the story long after his presidential run because tying him to a plant in China’s Ministry of State Security blunts his criticism of Trump, which is only slightly more deranged than every other Democratic politician’s criticism of Trump.
It’s a conspiracy theory that isn’t so much plagued by flaws so much as it is made of flaws.
In an appearance on Fox News on Wednesday, Axios reporter Jonathan Swan called Swalwell’s accusation “risible,” and said the website stands behind the story from Axios China reporter Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian and Zach Dorfman of the Aspen Institute, a Washington-based think tank.
“It would be inappropriate for me to talk about my colleagues’ sourcing, but just use your common sense,” Swan said. “Even Swalwell acknowledges that he first found out Axios was on this in 2019. But … his timeline’s wrong … she’s [Allen-Ebrahimian has] been working on this for more than a year.”
But don’t tell Swalwell, who claims the case sent a chilling message to anyone willing to criticize the president.
In Democrat Rep. Eric Swalwell’s interview with CNN, he NEVER says a negative word about China’s spying.
Instead, Swalwell says the “wrongdoing” at hand was the leakers, NOT China.
Why can’t Eric Swalwell say a negative word about China? pic.twitter.com/REwLCvUgFP
— Steve Guest (@SteveGuest) December 9, 2020
“If this is a country where people who criticize the president are going to have law enforcement information weaponized against them, that’s not a country that any of us want to live in,” Swalwell told CNN. “I hope it is investigated as to who leaked this information.”
You’ll notice he wasn’t too concerned about the fact China was trying to infiltrate his inner circle. Swalwell has his priorities, after all.
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