The Senate on Tuesday confirmed Christopher Fonzone as general counsel of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence over objections from several Republicans because of his previous legal work for the Chinese Ministry of Commerce and Chinese telecom company Huawei Technologies.
Mr. Fonzone worked for the two Chinese entities in 2018 while employed by his current firm, Sidley Austin LLP. Mr. Fonzone served as deputy counsel to President Obama and as a legal adviser to the National Security Council before joining Sidley Austin.
Sen. Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican and a member of the Intelligence Committee, spoke in opposition to the nomination on the Senate floor before the vote. He said Mr. Fonzone demonstrated a lack of judgment by performing work for Huawei after serving in the Obama administration, which Mr. Cotton said highlighted a growing China lobby in Washington.
“Though he’s far from the worst offender, it’s time we start drawing a line,” Mr. Cotton said. “And in the future, I will, therefore, carefully scrutinize nominees for ties to the regime in Beijing and military companies like Huawei. If you wish to serve in the United States Government in the future, let me be very clear, do not do business with the Chinese Communist Party or its military or the companies that support it.”
President Biden’s nomination of Mr. Fonzone was confirmed in a 55-45 vote, with five Republicans joining all of the chamber’s Democrats in favor of confirmation.
Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines welcomed Mr. Fonzone’s confirmation and said he is the right man for the job.
“In addition to being an extraordinary lawyer with a wealth of experience, having served in the White House, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Justice, he is also someone with great integrity and empathy. The Intelligence Community will benefit greatly from his legal acumen on the complex, emerging issues we face today. I look forward to working with Chris,” said Ms. Haines.
Mr. Cotton was clear to point out in his speech on the floor that he did not question Mr. Fonzone’s integrity.
“By all accounts, Mr. Fonzone is a capable lawyer,” he said. “I don’t question his qualifications or his character. But there is reason to question his judgment.”
Mr. Fonzone disclosed his work for the Chinese Ministry of Commerce and Huawei at an Intelligence Committee confirmation hearing in May. He said he performed less than 50 hours of work for each client and did not lobby on behalf of either client.
That prompted four members of the Intelligence Committee to oppose his nomination.
“Any nominee who is up for a key national security post and comes from a law firm or other entity that performs work for the Chinese Communist Party or a Chinese state-directed entity like Huawei requires extra scrutiny,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican and vice chairman of the committee.
Sen. Ben Sasse, Nebraska Republican, later introduced a bill to ban presidential appointees from working for entities tied to the Chinese Communist Party.
“Mr. Fonzone showed extremely poor judgment when he did work for Huawei after he left President Obama’s National Security Council,” Mr. Sasse said. “Mr. Fonzone is not going to be the last nominee who will leave a national security appointment to go work for a CCP national champion and then try to come back to government service. Beijing is deliberately pursuing a strategy of entangling relationships with America’s private sector.”