Garland Defends Terminating Trump-Era 'China Initiative': 'We're Asking for Even More Money'

Garland Defends Terminating Trump-Era 'China Initiative': 'We're Asking for Even More Money'
Attorney General Merrick Garland testifies during a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies hearing in Washington on April 26, 2022. (Greg Nash/Pool/Getty Images)
Andrew Thornebrooke

Increased funding requests are evidence that the United States isn't weakening its efforts to counter the Chinese espionage efforts, according to the testimony of U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, who appeared before the House Appropriations Committee on April 28.

The committee's ranking member, Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), criticized Garland's termination of the "China Initiative," a Trump-era counter-espionage program, as a "baffling decision" and echoed comments by FBI Director Christopher Wray that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was the greatest threat facing the United States.

"Wray has repeatedly sounded the alarm about the threats that the United States face from China," Aderholt said. "And he is correct on that."

During a recent interview, Wray said the CCP had stolen more personal and corporate U.S. data than every other nation combined and that it had targeted every industry in the United States for espionage.

As such, numerous Republican lawmakers have called for Garland to reinstate the China Initiative, which they consider to be necessary to curb mounting aggression and espionage efforts from the CCP.

The initiative was terminated in February after some activists and academics launched complaints that it unfairly targeted people of Chinese ancestry. The Department of Justice (DOJ) conducted an internal review of the matter, which found no evidence of bias, but scrapped the program to avoid what was then called a "harmful perception of bias."

"We need to know why this administration, rather than working to counter the false political charge that the program was targeting Chinese people or people of Chinese ancestry, simply terminated this essential national security program," Aderholt said. "China presents an existential and generational threat."

Garland said the DOJ wasn't backing away from the threat posed by the CCP and was able to counter its malign influence despite having shuttered the China Initiative. To prove it, he said that the department was requesting billions of additional dollars for cybersecurity and counterintelligence.

"I think what Director Wray recently said ...  all of which I agree with, is that the Chinese government, the Communist Party, poses an enormous threat to our intellectual property [and] to our cyber systems with respect to counterintelligence," Garland said.

"It's not correct that we've dissolved our attacks, our response, to China. Quite the opposite. We've stepped them up. We're asking for even more money for counterintelligence and cyber defense."

Garland said the department is requesting $1.2 billion to address issues related to cybersecurity and cybercrime. Included within that are millions of dollars for pursuing malicious cyber actors and training cyber prosecutors, as well as blanket increases to the FBI and DOJ for cyber threat response and cybersecurity.

"All of the things that you are concerned about, about China, I remain concerned about," he said. "Nothing in our program reflects a diminution in that."

Despite the assurances, the threat posed by the CCP took little precedence in Garland's testimony, and his own opening statement (pdf) mentioned China by name only once.

Other members of the committee were less than pleased with Garland's reasoning, and Rep. Mike Garcia (R-Calif.) took particular offense to the fact that Garland described the DOJ's past year as both "pleasing" and "progress."

"You dissolved, a couple of months ago, inexplicably, this China Initiative that allows the U.S. government through the DOJ to prosecute China's espionage, cyber security threats, [and] their IP theft," Garcia said. "They [the CCP] are currently stealing roughly $400 billion to $600 billion of IP from the United States. ... Yet the DOJ dissolved the China initiative. I don't understand what's pleasing about that."

Andrew Thornebrooke is a national security correspondent for The Epoch Times covering China-related issues with a focus on defense, military affairs, and national security. He holds a master's in military history from Norwich University.