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China Initiative prosecutor's nomination fails amid opposition

By LIA ZHU in San Francisco | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2023-02-15 11:39

The nomination of an assistant US attorney who falsely prosecuted a Chinese-born professor under the now-defunct China Initiative, has timed out, and President Joe Biden has decided not to renominate him.

Casey Arrowood, the lead prosecutor of Anming Hu, a nanotechnology expert at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, was nominated by Biden in late July to serve as the US attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee for a term of four years.

US attorneys are appointed by the president and approved by the Senate as the top federal law enforcement officials in their federal districts and represent the government in both civil and criminal cases.

The Senate Judiciary Committee logged Arrowood's nomination on Aug 1 but had never set a date for a vote before the last session of the Senate ended last month. An expired nomination means the president needs to renominate the candidate or choose another candidate for the Senate to considerate.

But Biden has decided not to renominate Arrowood for the top prosecutor in the Eastern District of Tennessee under strong opposition from Asian American and academic organizations, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel.

Biden's decision has caused anger among some Republican senators who recommended and supported the controversial prosecutor.

At a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting last month, Senator Marsha Blackburn, a Republican from Tennessee and a prominent China hawk, blamed a Democratic member of the judiciary panel for blocking the nomination of Arrowood. She threatened to stall other US attorney nominations in retaliation for Biden's drop of Arrowood.

Since the nomination was announced last August, it has prompted a nationwide campaign calling on the White House to withdraw Arrowood's nomination and for the Senate Judiciary Committee to investigate and held a hearing.

The campaign's organizers — APA Justice, the Asian American Scholar Forum, the Tennessee Chinese American Alliance, and United Chinese Americans — said "Arrowood's wrongful prosecution of Professor Hu betrayed the public trust and confidence" and "failed to uphold justice and fairness".

Hu's was the first among a series of similar prosecutions under the China Initiative, a controversial program launched by the administration of former president Donald Trump in November 2018 to target researchers with ties to China to combat economic espionage.

Though FBI agent Kujtim Sadiku had admitted to falsely accusing Hu of being a spy for China, Arrowood pressed charges anyway. The professor was charged with wire fraud and making false statements.

As the original trial of Hu ended in a mistrial with a deadlocked jury in June 2021, Arrowood pursued a retrial in July, despite calls from academic and civil rights groups to drop the case.

In September 2021, US District Court Judge Thomas Varlan acquitted Hu of all charges, finding the government's evidence insufficient.

In his letter to Biden on Aug 19 to oppose Arrowood's nomination, Hu said this wrongful prosecution has significantly damaged his career, life and his family.

The campaign also received support from outside Asian American and scientific communities. After Arrowood's nomination expired last month, The Revolving Door Project, a Washington-based think tank that scrutinizes executive branch appointees, called on Biden to use the "second chance" to "do the right thing and drop Arrowood".

Arrowood, a military veteran, was complicit in the "racist targeting of intellectuals" during the Trump administration, and his involvement in the "racist and xenophobic" China Initiative was particularly damaging, wrote Emma Marsano and Toni Aguilar Rosenthal, both researchers at The Revolving Door Project.

US attorneys hold immense power in implementing federal policies, and Arrowood has "unequivocally" failed the test, said the researchers.

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