A suspected Chinese spy slept with at least 2 mayors and got close to Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell in a years-long intelligence campaign, report says

By Ashley Collman

A woman suspected of being a Chinese spy slept with at least two US mayors and got close to numerous Bay Area politicians in a years-long intelligence campaign directed at influencing American officials early in their careers, Axios reported on Tuesday.

Fang Fang, also known as Christine Fang, was heavily involved in Bay Area and national US politics from 2011 to 2015, the outlet reported.

Two US representatives Fang reportedly fundraised for — Eric Swalwell and Tulsi Gabbard — both ran as 2020 Democratic presidential candidates.

Axios reported that Swalwell had not been accused of wrongdoing, and a current US intelligence official said Swalwell cut ties with Fang as soon as he learned of concerns about her connections to China.

A representative for Gabbard told Axios that Gabbard had "no recollection of ever meeting or talking with" Fang.

Axios said Fang abruptly left the US in mid-2015 during an FBI investigation into her activities and has not returned to the US. The Justice Department has not filed any charges against her.

Fang's story shows China's strategy of targeting up-and-coming politicians to influence them years down the line when they gain more prominence.

Axios said it spoke to four current and former US intelligence officials about the case, as well as 22 current and former elected officials, political operatives, and former students who knew Fang.

Here's a summary of the outlet's report:

  • Fang was in her late 20s or early 30s when she came to the US and enrolled at California State University East Bay in 2011, friends and acquaintances said.
  • Fang used her position as the president of school groups to cultivate relationships with politicians.
  • Fang "soon became a mainstay at Bay Area political events," volunteered on campaigns, and helped fundraise for Democratic politicians like Swalwell and Gabbard, the report said.
  • Fang started getting close to Swalwell when he was a councilmember for Dublin City, California. She developed close ties to his office, helped bring in big donors, and even placed an intern in his office in Washington, DC.
  • Fang expanded her network nationally by attending conferences for mayors, sources told Axios.
  • A US intelligence official and a former elected official said Fang engaged in sexual or romantic relationships with at least two mayors of Midwestern cities, though Axios didn't identify either mayor.
  • Former Cupertino Mayor Gilbert Wong told Axios that one of the mayors was an older man "from an obscure city" who referred to Fang as his "girlfriend" in conversation.
  • A sexual encounter involving Fang and an Ohio mayor was also caught on FBI surveillance, a US official told Axios.
  • Fang came on the radar of US counterintelligence officials as they were investigating another person suspected of being a Chinese spy, a current counterintelligence official said.
  • Fang was put under FBI surveillance, and in 2015, senior US intelligence officials started tipping off the politicians Fang was getting close to, one official said.
  • In mid-2015, Fang abruptly left the US and returned to China, surprising many of her Bay Area political contacts. She has not been back since.
  • US officials do not believe Fang received or passed on classified information. But one current senior US intelligence official said the case was big nonetheless "because there were some really, really sensitive people that were caught up" in the intelligence network.

Axios' report was published on Tuesday, a day after President Donald Trump retweeted a Tucker Carlson report with a video that appeared to show a Beijing professor saying "We have people at the top of America's core inner circle of power and influence."

Last week, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, Trump's spy chief, said in a Wall Street Journal op-ed article that China posed "the greatest threat to America today."

Ratcliffe wrote that "this year China engaged in a massive influence campaign that included targeting several dozen members of Congress and congressional aides."

Bill Evanina, the director of the US National Counterintelligence and Security Center, also said last week that China was already targeting President-elect Joe Biden and his team.

Read the full Axios report here »