They asked the Inspector General to launch a new investigation.
Three Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee requested a comprehensive look into the FBI’s actions against a former University of Tennessee at Knoxville professor charged with concealing his ties to China after the litigation resulted in a mistrial.
Reps. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., Mondaire Jones, D-N.Y., and Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., called for a fresh investigation via a letter to Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz. In it, the lawmakers also questioned whether the China Initiative—a Trump-era effort to counter economic espionage attempts executed by the People’s Republic of China—pushes federal agents to engage in racial profiling.
“[W]e are deeply troubled by the alleged misconduct of the [FBI] in the unsuccessful prosecution of [UTK] associate professor Anming Hu,” the lawmakers wrote. “The FBI allegedly falsely accused Professor Hu of being a Chinese spy; falsely implicated Professor Hu as an operative for the Chinese military; and used false information to put Professor Hu on the federal no-fly list—among a number of other actions.”
Hu, a Chinese-born scientist and Canadian citizen, was arrested early last year and charged with federal counts of wire fraud and making false statements. Prosecutors accused him of hiding his work with the Beijing University of Technology while participating in a NASA-funded project.
The professor was reportedly the first academic to stand trial on non-espionage charges under DOJ’s China Initiative, according to the Washington Post. Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions launched that program in 2018 to help combat what the administration viewed as mounting China-led intellectual property and trade-secret theft reports. It has carried on into the Biden-Harris administration, but some argue the effort’s led to fear in the U.S. science community—and potentially, profiling.
According to media reports and the representatives’ letter, FBI Agent Kujtim Sadiku testified during Hu’s trial that government officials used false information to press the professor to become an American government spy, shared inaccuracies to justify assigning a team of agents to monitor him and his son for nearly two years, and more.
The Tennessee jury could not reach a verdict, and the judge declared a mistrial.
“If these allegations are true,” the policymakers wrote in their note to DOJ, “the FBI’s misconduct is alarming.”
They asked the IG to review Hu’s case in detail. Among other topics, the lawmakers also suggested exploring if that initiative “put untoward pressure on FBI agents or Department of Justice prosecutors to engage in racial or ethnic profiling.”
The events echo “similar cases such as Wen Ho Lee, Sherry Chen, and Professor Xi, all of whom were falsely accused of spying for China,” they added in an accompanying press release, pointing to individuals who faced spying-aligned accusations years before the China Initiative formed.
The Justice Department received the letter, a spokesperson for Rep. Lieu told Nextgov Tuesday. So far, the official added, the department has yet to respond to it—but that’s “not unusual,” as agencies often take time to reply formally.