SFRC Hearing: Terry Branstad to be Ambasador to The People’s Republic Of China (Updated)

Posted: 2:53 am ET
Updated: 2:02 pm ET
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Date: Tuesday, May 2, 2017
Time: 10:00 AM
Location: SD-419
Presiding: Senator Corker

Nominee

The Honorable Terry Branstad Of Iowa, To Be Ambassador Extraordinary And Plenipotentiary Of The United States Of America To The People’s Republic Of China

Live hearing and prepared testimony are posted here. Excerpt below from prepared statement:

If confirmed, as Ambassador, I will work every day to represent American values to the leadership of China and the Chinese people at large; values that include upholding human rights for all, a free and open market, a rules-based order in the oceans surrounding China, and the importance of a free press.

I look forward to joining the impressive and committed team of public servants and their families from the U.S. State Department and many other U.S. government agencies at our embassy in Beijing and consulates across China. Leading this team of dedicated professionals, who are working as we speak to promote America’s interests in China, would be a great honor and a responsibility that I would not take lightly.
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If confirmed, I hope to use my unique position as an “old friend” of President Xi and a trusted confidant of President Trump to positively influence the U.S.-China relationship. As the Governor of Iowa, I saw first-hand the importance of a positive and healthy trade relationship between our two countries. Nearly, one out of every two rows of Iowa soybeans is sent to China, as well as $33.5 million in pork in 2016. The importance of trade extends well beyond agriculture too. Aviation products, manufactured goods, chemicals, electronics, and many other products and services are exported to China daily and help support and sustain the American economy.

Updated: 2:02 pm ET

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@StateDept OMS Arrested/Charged With Concealing Extensive Contacts With Chinese Intel Agents

Posted: 5:17 pm ET
Updated: March 30, 4:18 am ET  
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On March 29, the Justice Department announced the arrest of State Department employee, Candace Marie Claiborne, 60, of Washington, D.C. for obstructing an official proceeding and making false statements to the FBI, both felony offenses, and for allegedly concealing numerous contacts that she had over a period of years with foreign intelligence agents.  The State Department phone directory dated March 27, 2017 lists Candace Claiborne as an Office Management Specialist (OMS) at the Office of Caucasus Affairs and Regional Conflicts (EUR/CARC). This office has desk officers for Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan, as well as the Minsk Group Co-Chair.  The Minsk Group  provide a forum for negotiations towards a peaceful settlement in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict involving Armenia and Azerbaijan.

The DOJ announcement notes that Claiborne has been an Office Management Specialist (OMS) for the Department of State in since 1999 and has served overseas at a number of posts, including embassies and consulates in Baghdad, Iraq, Khartoum, Sudan, and Beijing and Shanghai, China.  Given the lengths of the tours of duty, we suspect that she was in more than four posts in 18 years, but we have yet to see a copy of the FBI complaint. OMSs provide office management and administrative support including managing the calendar(s) and schedule(s) for senior staff, proofing, editing, tracking and filing documents, preparing agenda and materials for meetings, providing computer and mobile device support, knowledge management, and planning and assisting with official events and visitors. Read more about OMSs here.

According to the FBI agent’s affidavit supporting the criminal complaint and arrest warrant, “there is probable cause to believe that Claiborne made materially false statements to federal law enforcement officers, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1001, and conspired with Co-Conspirators A B, and C to obstruct an official proceeding, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1512. These criminal violations werc either begun or committed in Washington D.C., where Claiborne resides and works, and where the Department of State is headquartered or were begun or committed overseas, out of the jurisdiction of any particular state.”  But who’s Co-Conspirator A, and why wasn’t he charged?

Read the criminal complaint here via Politico. It looks pretty bad. 

Below is the DOJ announcement:

State Department Employee Arrested and Charged With Concealing Extensive Contacts With Foreign Agents

A federal complaint was unsealed today charging Candace Marie Claiborne, 60, of Washington, D.C., and an employee of the U.S. Department of State, with obstructing an official proceeding and making false statements to the FBI, both felony offenses, for allegedly concealing numerous contacts that she had over a period of years with foreign intelligence agents.

The charges were announced by Acting Assistant Attorney General Mary B. McCord for National Security, U.S. Attorney Channing D. Phillips of the District of Columbia and Assistant Director in Charge Andrew W. Vale of the FBI’s Washington Field Office.

“Candace Marie Claiborne is a U.S. State Department employee who possesses a Top Secret security clearance and allegedly failed to report her contacts with Chinese foreign intelligence agents who provided her with thousands of dollars of gifts and benefits,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General McCord. “Claiborne used her position and her access to sensitive diplomatic data for personal profit. Pursuing those who imperil our national security for personal gain will remain a key priority of the National Security Division.”

“Candace Claiborne is charged with obstructing an official proceeding and making false statements in connection with her alleged concealment and failure to report her improper connections to foreign contacts along with the tens of thousands of dollars in gifts and benefits they provided,” said U.S. Attorney Phillips. “As a State Department employee with a Top Secret clearance, she received training and briefing about the need for caution and transparency. This case demonstrates that U.S. government employees will be held accountable for failing to honor the trust placed in them when they take on such sensitive assignments”

“Candace Claiborne is accused of violating her oath of office as a State Department employee, who was entrusted with Top Secret information when she purposefully mislead federal investigators about her significant and repeated interactions with foreign contacts,” said Assistant Director in Charge Vale. “The FBI will continue to investigate individuals who, though required by law, fail to report foreign contacts, which is a key indicator of potential insider threats posed by those in positions of public trust.”

The FBI arrested Claiborne on March 28. She made her first appearance this afternoon in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

According to the affidavit in support of the complaint and arrest warrant, which was unsealed today, Claiborne began working as an Office Management Specialist for the Department of State in 1999. She has served overseas at a number of posts, including embassies and consulates in Baghdad, Iraq, Khartoum, Sudan, and Beijing and Shanghai, China. As a condition of her employment, Claiborne maintains a Top Secret security clearance. Claiborne also is required to report any contacts with persons suspected of affiliation with a foreign intelligence agency.

Despite such a requirement, the affidavit alleges, Claiborne failed to report repeated contacts with two intelligence agents of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), even though these agents provided tens of thousands of dollars in gifts and benefits to Claiborne and her family over five years. According to the affidavit, the gifts and benefits included cash wired to Claiborne’s USAA account, an Apple iPhone and laptop computer, Chinese New Year’s gifts, meals, international travel and vacations, tuition at a Chinese fashion school, a fully furnished apartment, and a monthly stipend. Some of these gifts and benefits were provided directly to Claiborne, the affidavit alleges, while others were provided through a co-conspirator.

According to the affidavit, Claiborne noted in her journal that she could “Generate 20k in 1 year” working with one of the PRC agents, who, shortly after wiring $2,480 to Claiborne, tasked her with providing internal U.S. Government analyses on a U.S.-Sino Strategic Economic Dialogue that had just concluded.

Claiborne, who allegedly confided to a co-conspirator that the PRC agents were “spies,” willfully misled State Department background investigators and FBI investigators about her contacts with those agents, the affidavit states. After the State Department and FBI investigators contacted her, Claiborne also instructed her co-conspirators to delete evidence connecting her to the PRC agents, the affidavit alleges.

Charges contained in a criminal complaint are merely allegations, and every defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

The maximum penalty for a person convicted of obstructing an official proceeding is 20 years in prison. The maximum penalty for making false statements to the FBI is five years in prison. The maximum statutory sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes. If convicted of any offense, the sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the court based on the advisory Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

At her court appearance today, Claiborne pleaded not guilty before the Honorable Magistrate Judge Robin M. Meriweather. A preliminary hearing was set for April 18.

The FBI’s Washington Field Office is leading the investigation into this matter. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys John L. Hill and Thomas A. Gillice for the District of Columbia and Trial Attorney Julie Edelstein of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section.

It looks like the arrest warrant was issued yesterday, and the complaint was unsealed today, but we have yet to locate the charging document.  As with the DOJ statement, we should note that charges contained in a criminal complaint are allegations, and every defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

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Trump to Nominate Iowa Gov Terry Branstad as U.S. Ambassador to China

Posted: 2:19 am ET
Updated: Dec 8, 3:37 pm PT
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President-elect Trump has yet to make a decision on who will be his secretary of state. That search has expanded and the news media reports that this is now a 10-man race for the 69th Secretary of State. While the search is ongoing, Mr. Trump has apparently already offered the ambassadorship to China to Terry Branstad, and the Iowa governor has accepted.

On December 7, Governor Branstad released a statement saying, “I am honored and humbled to be nominated to serve as the U.S. Ambassador to China.”  His statement also said: “The United States – Chinese bilateral relationship is at a critical point.  Ensuring the countries with the two largest economies and two largest militaries in the world maintain a collaborative and cooperative relationship is needed more now than ever. The President-elect understands my unique relationship to China and has asked me to serve in a way I had not previously considered.”

Governor Branstad has served as Iowa Governor from 1983-1999 and 2011 to the present.  His relationship with China goes back to 1983 when he signed a formal agreement establishing the sister-state relationship between Hebei province and Iowa. In 1985, Xi Jinping, then a county-level party leader from Hebei, visited Iowa for the very first time and met with Governor Branstad at the state capitol. In 2012, when Vice President Xi visited Des Moines and Muscatine, Governor Branstad sent a personal thank-you to Xi and invited him to an “old friends” reunion dinner. The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman also called Governor Branstad an “old friend of the Chinese people.” Senator Chuck Grassley tweeted that “Gov Branstad has longstanding relationship w Pres of China so his nomination is good 4 our national interest.”

If confirmed by the Senate after January 20, Governor Branstad will be President Trump’s personal representative to the People’s Republic of China. He will not actually report to the White House but to the still unnamed secretary of state at the State Department, through the East Asia Pacific Bureau.

Some of Governor Branstad’s predecessors at the US Embassy in Beijing include Senator Max Sieben Baucus (1941–) who was appointed by President Obama on March 20, 2014; former WA Governor Gary Locke (1950–) who served from 2011–2014; former Bush ambassador to Singapore Jon M. Huntsman Jr. (1960–) who President Obama appointed to Beijing from 2009–2011; and former President George Herbert Walker Bush (1924–) who served as Chief of the U.S. Liaison Office in Peking (Beijing) from 1974 to 1975.

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More on Trump’s Taiwan Call Plus Video Clips From Secretary of State Candidates #suspense

Posted: 2:07 am ET
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A view from Taiwan, a Trump-Tsai Ing-wen tag team, watch:

Now for the auditions, with some exciting clips below:

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Trump Chats With Taiwan’s President, a First? Since Diplomatic Relations Cut in 1979. Uh-oh! #OneChina

Posted: 4:21  pm PT
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Via history.state.gov:

During Jimmy Carter’s presidency, the most dramatic moment in Sino-American relations occurred on December 15, 1978, when, following months of secret negotiations, the United States and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) announced that they would recognize one another and establish official diplomatic relations. As part of the agreement, the United States recognized the Government of the People’s Republic of China as the sole legal government of China, and declared it would withdraw diplomatic recognition from Taiwan (also known as the Republic of China [ROC]).
[…]
A new era began with a rapprochement during Richard Nixon’s presidency. Nixon and his aide, Henry Kissinger, found ready partners in Mao Zedong, the Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party, and Zhou Enlai, the Chinese Premier, who also wanted to improve Sino-U.S. relations. Their efforts resulted in the Shanghai Communiqué, which laid the basis for future cooperation between the two countries even while acknowledging continuing disagreements on the subject of Taiwan. As part of this rapprochement, the two countries opened liaison offices in one another’s capitals in 1973, a time when Taiwan still had an Embassy in Washington. The liaison offices, which in many ways operated as de facto embassies, represented a significant concession by the People’s Republic of China, which opposed the acceptance of “two Chinas” because that implied both were legitimate governments.
[…]
PRC leaders repeatedly expressed displeasure with the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), which became law on April 10, 1979. The TRA was influenced by Congressional supporters of Taiwan and stated that it is the policy of the United States “to provide Taiwan with arms of a defensive character; and to maintain the capacity of the United States to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or the social or economic system, of the people on Taiwan.” In his signing statement, Carter declared that he would use the discretion granted to him by Congress to interpret the TRA “in a manner consistent with our interest in the well-being of the people on Taiwan and with the understandings we reached on the normalization of relations with the People’s Republic of China.”
[…]
On January 1, 1979, the United States recognized the PRC and established diplomatic relations with it as the sole legitimate government of China. On the same day, the United States withdrew its recognition of, and terminated diplomatic relations with, the Republic of China as the government of China.  The U.S. embassy in Taipei was closed on February 28, 1979. The U.S. Liaison Office in Beijing was converted to an Embassy on March 1, 1979, and Leonard F. Woodcock, who had been head of the Liaison Office, was appointed Ambassador.

 

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