The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Wednesday advanced the nomination of Christopher Fonzone to serve as general counsel of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). Fonzone, who previously worked in the Obama administration, has admitted to conducting legal work on behalf of Chinese tech giant Huawei.
Fonzone is a partner at Sidley Austin LLP, a law firm that Huawei first hired for lobbying in 2019. As of April 2021, the Chinese tech company still retains a working relationship with Sidley Austin, according to the Washington Free Beacon. During his confirmation hearing, Fonzone attempted to defend his record, arguing that his previous work would not hamper his ability to operate objectively while working for the ODNI.
“The firm asked me to look into a question of how U.S. law works,” Fonzone said. “I did a de minimis amount of work, less than 10 hours, to explain how U.S. administrative law works, I provided it to my partners, and … I’ve had no follow up since then.”
Republican Sens. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Marco Rubio of Florida, and Tom Cotton of Arkansas were among the four committee members who voted “no” on Fonzone’s nomination.
“You can’t work for Huawei and then work for the Director of National Intelligence,” Sasse said in a joint press release. “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.”
“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,” Cotton added.
Last year, the Federal Communications Commission designated Huawei as a “national security threat,” citing the company’s close ties to the Chinese Communist Party as a danger to American communication systems.
“With today’s Orders, and based on the overwhelming weight of evidence, the Bureau has designated Huawei and ZTE as national security risks to America’s communications networks — and to our 5G future,” said Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai. “Both companies have close ties to the Chinese Communist Party and China’s military apparatus, and both companies are broadly subject to Chinese law obligating them to cooperate with the country’s intelligence services. … We cannot and will not allow the Chinese Communist Party to exploit network vulnerabilities and compromise our critical communications infrastructure.”