Rep. Eric Swalwell told CNN Wednesday that he was “shocked” when the FBI informed him several years ago that he was targeted by a suspected Chinese intelligence operative as part of a broader effort to establish ties with US politicians, reiterating that he immediately cooperated with federal investigators who were looking into the individual in question.
Swalwell was named in an Axios report detailing what US officials believed to be a political intelligence operation run by China’s main civilian spy agency between 2011 and 2015.
The woman at the center of the operation, Fang Fang or Christine Fang, took part in fundraising activity for Swalwell’s 2014 reelection campaign and helped place an intern in the California Democrat’s office, according to Axios.
But as stated in the initial report, Swalwell was never suspected of any wrongdoing, a point he reiterated to CNN on Wednesday.
“I was told about this individual and I offered to help,” he told CNN’s Jim Sciutto. “All I did was cooperate and the FBI said that yesterday.”
Swalwell, who serves on the House Intelligence Committee and was very vocal during President Donald Trump’s impeachment proceedings last year, also questioned the timing of the story considering the probe took place several years ago, raising the possibility that it was leaked to harm him politically.
“At the same time this story was being leaked out is the time that I was working on impeachment on the House Intelligence and Judiciary Committees,” he said, referring to the fact that the Axios report was produced after a year-long investigation.
“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. I hope it is investigated who leaked this information,” Swalwell added.
The Axios report comes after Trump’s top politically appointed intelligence official, John Ratcliffe, issued a stark warning last week that China is preparing for “an open-ended period of confrontation with the US,” urging bipartisan action to address “the greatest threat to America today” and to “democracy around the world since World War II.”
Ratcliffe also charged in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that China targeted several dozen members of Congress and congressional aides in a massive influence campaign this year but did not name individual lawmakers.
Specifically, Ratcliffe said that the Chinese government “engaged in a massive influence campaign that included targeting several dozen members of Congress and congressional aides” over the last year – arguing that Beijing’s efforts dwarfed those of other foreign adversaries and rivals, including Russia.
While the precise details of this influence campaign remain highly classified, a senior national security official told CNN that the Chinese government used a variety of tactics, including attempted bribery and blackmail.
“Our intelligence shows that Beijing regularly directs this type of influence operation in the U.S. I briefed the House and Senate Intelligence committees that China is targeting members of Congress with six times the frequency of Russia and 12 times the frequency of Iran,” Ratcliffe wrote.
Pressed Wednesday on the Axios report and whether he was concerned that he may have shared sensitive information with the suspected Chinese spy before being notified by the FBI, Swalwell said, “I know that I didn’t.”
“The Axios story made clear that no information was ever shared,” he said. “The people who did share classified information were the people who leaked this story.”
In addition to Fang’s ties to Swalwell, Axios reported that she sought to establish relationships with influential politicians through “campaign fundraising, extensive networking, personal charisma, and romantic or sexual relationships with at least two Midwestern mayors.”
On Wednesday, Swalwell characterized China’s broader espionage efforts as “persistent” but cautioned against stereotyping people as spies.
“We need to invest more in our intelligence resources so we don’t have people who can successfully do this. Thankfully in this case, because of the FBI, nothing happened,” he said.