Federal Prosecutor Raises Alarm About Chinese Election Interference – Last week, while California Governor Gavin Newsom held discussions with Chinese government officials in China, the U.S. Attorney for California’s central district, Martin Estrada, privately informed Congress that Beijing is making efforts to exert influence on California’s elections.
Estrada emphasized the significance of California as the gateway to Asia during his closed-door interview with the House Judiciary Committee on October 24. “And we have the People’s Republic of China trying to influence our elections, trying to target some of our individuals.” Estrada’s statement highlights the evolving threats posed by foreign election interference as the United States approaches the 2024 election cycle.
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While previous cycles primarily drew attention to Russian interference, in the run-up to the 2022 midterms, intelligence agencies issued warnings about China intensifying its efforts to influence state and local elections by supporting candidates aligned with Beijing’s interests. Recent months have seen heightened concerns among California government officials regarding China’s involvement in the state’s elections, as disclosed by an anonymous state official.
The public revelation of Estrada’s statement underscores the political complexities associated with broader engagement with China, not only for a prominent state official like Newsom but also for the Biden administration. Newsom, whose primary focus during his visit to China was climate-related, faced criticism from human rights activists and Republican China critics for undertaking the trip.
President Joe Biden, too, has faced scrutiny for an upcoming meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Before Governor Newsom’s trip, which centered on strengthening collaboration with China in the context of climate change, he and his team conducted multiple briefings with National Security Council representatives, officials from the U.S. State Department, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
These discussions did not encompass discussions about potential Chinese election interference. Following the meeting, Newsom mentioned that he engaged in conversations regarding human rights violations and anti-democratic actions in regions like Hong Kong, Tibet, Xinjiang, and Taiwan. Additionally, he raised concerns about the long-term imprisonment of California pastor David Lin in China since 2006 and the pressing issue of fentanyl.
“These were honest conversations” Newsom told reporters on Tuesday. “They were pointed, but no fingers were being pointed. And the overriding purpose was around a substantive desire to engage and a need and desire to reconcile our differences.” Next month, Biden is scheduled to have a face-to-face meeting with Xi during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco.
Last year, Biden appointed Estrada to serve as the top federal prosecutor in California’s central district, which encompasses Los Angeles. House Judiciary Republicans sought to question him about his choice not to formally collaborate with Delaware prosecutors who were investigating the President’s son.
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During the interview, one of the staff members inquired about how closely Estrada monitored the activities of the Delaware prosecutors in his district. In response, Estrada highlighted the extensive range of issues that his district had to address, indicating that he had other pressing priorities and limited capacity to closely monitor the day-to-day actions of prosecutors handling the case involving the President’s son.