REGIONAL — Revelations last week that a Chinese spy targeted Tri-Valley Congressman Eric Swalwell six years ago sparked a flurry of Republican calls for his removal from the House Intelligence committee, despite any indication that he did anything wrong.
Swalwell told reporters he was shocked years ago to learn from the FBI that the woman who raised funds for him and interacted with him at numerous events worked for China’s Ministry of State Security — its intelligence operation. According to a report in Axios, the woman Swalwell knew as Christine Fang was cozying up to American politicians the Chinese deemed on the rise.
Swalwell — whose 15th district includes Dublin, Pleasanton, Livermore, Sunol and 11 other cities — cut ties to her and provided information about her to the FBI to assist with their investigation, he said.
“Long ago, Rep. Swalwell provided information about this person, whom he hasn’t seen in nearly six years, to the FBI, and he didn’t participate in the Axios story to protect information that might be classified,” Swalwell’s spokesman Josh Richman said.
“The FBI has now reaffirmed that Rep. Swalwell was never suspected of wrongdoing in this matter. In addition, the Republican and Democratic congressional leadership were informed that Rep. Swalwell was not suspected of wrongdoing. No concerns were raised on either side of the aisle at that time or over the past five years.”
Despite that, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a Republican who represents Bakersfield, suggested Swalwell should not continue to serve on the Intelligence Committee. Swalwell became fodder for discussion on right-leaning talk shows.
“He is jeopardizing national security,” McCarthy told reporters.
Swalwell said he would remain on the committee. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she knew about the Chinese spy plot and had no problem with Swalwell.
Axios reported Dec. 8 that China’s intelligence operation placed Fang — known as Fang Fang — in the United States to target "up-and-coming local politicians in the Bay Area and across the country who had the potential to make it big on the national stage." Citing current and former U.S. Intelligence officials and one former elected official, Axios said Fang got close to political power through fundraising, extensive networking, personal charisma and romantic or sexual relationships with two Midwestern mayors from 2011-2015.
U.S. officials told Axios they did not believe Fang received or passed on classified information. However, they stated that the discovery of her activities was a "big deal" because of whom she targeted; it’s indicative of how hard China is working to infiltrate the United States. Axios reported that private but unclassified information about government officials — including their habits, schedules and social networks — is a part of what foreign intelligence operatives collect and reveals how China tried to gain access to and influence U.S. political circles.
Swalwell, a former Dublin mayor elected in 2012, was among the more significant targets because he was considered a rising star in the Democratic party, the report said. Swalwell beat incumbent Congressman Pete Stark for the post and serves on the Intelligence committee. He ran for president in 2019, but was the first candidate to drop out.
Fang first took part in fundraising activity for Swalwell’s 2014 reelection campaign, and interacted with him at multiple events, Axios reported, citing its sources.
Axios, said there was no evidence Fang’s activities resulted in Swalwell receiving illegal contributions.
Aal counterintelligence officials began watching Fang in 2015 and notified Swalwell, who quickly cut ties with her. Fang left the country, Axios said.
Axios said Fang also targeted Ro Khanna, volunteering for his unsuccessful 2014 bid for Congress to represent Fremont and surrounding communities. He won in 2016. She also raised funds for Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) in 2013. Axios posted photographs showing Fang with Swalwell, Khanna, U.S. Rep. Judy Chu (D-Pasadena) and former U.S. Rep. Mike Honda, who was defeated by Khanna.
Axios said its reporting took a year. Swalwell suggested in interviews with Politico and CNN that the timing the information was leaked to the media coincided with the impeachment investigation and Swalwell’s outspokenness against President Donald Trump. He told reporters it was intended to hurt him.
“They are not going to silence me,” Swalwell said. “But what they are going to do is they are going to make others think twice when they are asked to sit down and provide ... information about people like this.”
Despite no indication of anything illegal on Swalwell’s part, right-leaning publications and television shows focused on Swalwell and the Chinese spy. Tucker Carlson accused Swalwell of a sexual relationship with Fang. Axios reported that Fang slept with two mayors, but indicated nothing about Swalwell.
Some Republican politicians demanded answers from Swalwell and Democratic leaders.
"Why is Speaker Pelosi trying to sweep this under the rug?" U.S. Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio) wrote on Twitter on Dec. 10. "Rep. Swalwell needs to stop dodging questions and explain to the Intelligence Committee exactly what happened regarding the alleged Chinese spy."
Florida Sen. Rick Scott said on Fox Business that Swalwell cannot remain on the Intelligence committee.
Georgia Congressman Doug Collins, the House Intelligence committees ranking member, stated "Eric Swalwell is a risk to our national security. He should be removed from the House Intelligence Committee immediately.”
Swalwell told CNN the FBI thanked him for his help.
"There was never a suspicion of wrongdoing on my part, and all I did was cooperate and the FBI said that,” Swalwell said.