Revelations that former President Donald Trump has been keeping classified documents at his Mar a Lago home was not so surprising but is especially troubling in light of his administration’s highly publicized “China initiative.”
Established in 2018 by FBI Director Christopher Wray, the purpose was to engage a “whole society” effort to target what was considered by the FBI to be a whole society threat from China that espionage could be expected from all possible points of contact.
Particularly highlighted by Wray was the naivete of academia, which relies heavily on students and researchers from China or with ties to China, if even only through ancestry. As a result, there was a chilling effect on students, professors and throughout academia.
The result of the initiative, and the incentivization of agents and prosecutors to pursue cases against potential Chinese collaborators, has resulted in nearly 60 cases listed on the FBI’s China Initiative website.
A quick scan of those cases will reveal very little to do with espionage. The fruits of the China Initiative was the revelation that many researchers failed to disclose ties to China in grant applications.
Given the anti-China rhetoric, one could hardly blame anyone had they intentionally not disclosed any ties to China lest it paint them as a traitor without any further cause.
In total, there are 77 known cases under the China Initiative that have resulted in 28 actual prosecutions of which there have been only eight convictions or admissions of guilt. Of those, zero have been on the basis of espionage or theft of technology.
None of this is to say that the threat of technology theft or transfer to China is not a concern. Recently there was the report of a Chinese scientist stealing autonomous driving technology from Apple; however, he was caught through the internal investigation of Apple, not through the work necessarily of the Department of Justice or the now-ended China Initiative. Thankfully, the program was formally ended in February of this year, perhaps not ironically three days after the 80th anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 9066.
At the same time, then-President Trump was accompanying the China Initiative with highly charged rhetoric about the enemy nation and the threat it posed. As we all know, the result was a wave of anti-Asian hate and violence that terrorized our communities.
All of this brings us to the former president and the recent news of over 180 classified documents held in an insecure manner, in defiance to inquiries from the National Archives and the Department of Justice to secure said documents.
Reports are that these documents potentially put our intelligence methodology and even operative identities at risk of being revealed. For someone so concerned about the espionage threat from China, Trump has a well-known reputation for his cavalier handling of our nation’s most sensitive secrets.
This is playing out as the typical case of unequal treatment under the law depending on who you are. Citizenship can be meaningless if you are Japanese American during World War II or Chinese American in the current times of tension between China and the United States.
There can be no other path but for the Department of Justice to pursue the case against President Trump. Given the aggressive manner it has pursued so many cases against Chinese and Chinese Americans for far-lesser violations has painted itself into a corner on what must be done.
It would be a delicious irony for the former president to be indicted and eventually convicted on the basis of charges not dissimilar to those he inflicted upon Chinese and Chinese Americans in his own McCarthy-esque witch hunts.
The reality of the previous president is that he reflects his own misconduct upon others, whether it be charges of election fraud or engaging in behavior that might be interpreted as damaging to our national security. If we want to identify all the misbehavior of the previous administration, we need only look to what he accused others of doing.
David Inoue is executive director of the JACL. He is based in the organization’s Washington, D.C., office.