President Biden drew outrage and forceful opposition last fall after nominating Casey T. Arrowood to the position of United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee, based on Arrowood’s role in the baseless prosecution of a Chinese-Canadian professor under the Trump DOJ’s “China initiative.” Fortunately, with the new year and the convening of a new Congress, all pending nominees must be renominated, providing Biden another chance to do the right thing and drop Arrowood from consideration.
What are US Attorneys?
United States Attorneys (USAs) are Senate-approved Presidential appointees who serve four-year terms as the top federal law enforcement officials in their federal districts and represent the government in both civil and criminal cases. Though the 93 US Attorneys across the nation (and US territories) are overseen by the DOJ’s Executive Office for US Attorneys (EOUSA), each USA retains a significant level of discretion in the cases they take on and their strategy in pursuing those cases.
The US Attorney’s Office’s autonomy embeds significant power in each individual office and officer. This power in turn mandates significant scrutiny for the individuals who take on these roles. Meaning, the professional histories and personal connections of USA’s – who can come to the role from careers in civil service or from BigLaw firms with long lists of corporate clients – are relevant to their performance of their job duties, and should be scrutinized to address potential improprieties, fraught priorities, and other conflicts of interest borne by the revolving door.
Why the controversy over Arrowood?
Arrowood, a military veteran, was involved in national security law enforcement for the multiple US Attorney’s Offices (USAO’s) where he worked prior to his nomination. While his involvement in BigLaw (as an associate for Squire Patton Boggs in 2010) is not nearly as extensive as some other Biden nominees’ corporate law firm ties, he was complicit in the office’s racist targeting of intellectuals during the Trump administration. Specifically fueling the fire against Arrowood’s is his involvement in the Trump DOJ’s “China Initiative” – a racist and xenophobic set of cases accusing researchers working for American universities of mostly Chinese descent of being spies for the Chinese government. While the DOJ called off the initiative in February 2022, some professors remained under scrutiny, with cases pending even after the program’s nominal end date.
Particularly damning for Arrowood is his role as the lead prosecutor in a case targeting Dr. Anming Hu, a Chinese Canadian professor at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville who received NASA funding for his nanotechnology research.
Arrowood led the prosecutorial charge that alleged that Dr. Hu defrauded NASA by hiding his past affiliation with Beijing University of Technology, and that he violated a 2011 federal law prohibiting NASA funding from supporting research conducted by the Chinese government. In September 2021, a federal judge acquitted Dr. Hu of the charges in his case, saying that “no rational jury could have concluded that [the] defendant had a scheme to defraud NASA in this case.” As others have written, most “China Initiative” cases, including Dr. Hu’s, were not based on actual evidence of passing information to the Chinese government, but rather almost solely on their Chinese heritage. In Dr. Hu’s case, the purported “fraud” he committed was related to his connection to a Chinese university (Beijing University of Technology, as a part-time summer faculty member), a fact which he shared openly when applying for employment at the University of Tennessee. Ironically, Dr. Hu’s ordeal of being baselessly investigated and harassed by the FBI began after he refused to spy on the Chinese government on behalf of the US government!
As soon as Dr. Hu was arrested in connection with the case, University of Tennessee fired him and turned over his private personnel files to the FBI – who actually had no legal authority to take them, but did so anyway. After Dr. Hu’s case concluded and the charges were officially revealed as baseless – something that was plainly obvious the whole time – UT reinstated him with back pay, research funding, and university support to regain his work visa.
Despite the mountains of evidence aiding in Dr. Hu’s defense, when the government’s initial case against Dr. Hu resulted in a mistrial, prosecutors – again led by Arrowood – pushed to retry him. Fortunately, a federal judge finally acquitted Dr. Hu citing the utter lack of evidence to support the government’s case.
Based on Arrowood’s commitment to pursuing a baseless case targeting Dr. Hu, many Chinese-American and Asian American advocacy groups and legal associations have launched sign-on campaigns, published op-eds, and otherwise entreated the Senate to reject Arrowood’s nomination, and to implore Biden not to re-nominate Arrowood as the 118th Congress begins this month.
Biden Should Listen
U.S. Attorneys hold immense power in the on-the-ground implementation of federal policy initiatives, and in the actualization of the enforcement end goals of any administration. President Biden’s chosen representatives for that immense task should reflect the values that Biden himself has continuously espoused. Among many others, that is a test that Casey T. Arrowood has unequivocally failed. Biden has the chance to – at the dawn of this new Congress – do the right thing. He should.
President Biden: Let this nomination die.