The bombshell disclosure that East Bay Rep. Eric Swalwell was the target of a suspected Chinese spy who helped bundle campaign contributions for his campaign and was successful in placing an intern in the East Bay congressmember’s D.C. office has simmered for several years in Southern Alameda County.
First reported by Axios on Monday, the investigation found a Chinese national named Fang Fang, but better known to local officials as Christine Fang, ingratiated herself with Swalwell and then his 2014 re-election campaign. She later pulled in other elected officials and Asian American political groups. Sensitive information is not believed to have been secured by Fang, but she was able safely enter the inner-circle and gain intelligence not only on Swalwell, but possibly South Bay Rep. Ro Khanna, and officials from every level of local government in Southern Alameda County and the Tri-Valley.
But the undercurrent of local buzz about Fang over the past five years almost always suggested romantic dalliances with Swalwell, and perhaps other elected officials. The Axios story reports that Fang had sexual relationships with two unnamed “Midwestern mayors,” but did not mention Swalwell.
Fox News, citing intelligence officials, reported Swalwell also had a sexual relationship with Fang. Swalwell’s office declined to comment, according to Fox News, because the information is classified. A source in the East Bay said Swalwell’s romantic interludes occurred in Contra Costa County.
Swalwell is married with two small children. But at the time of his involvement with Fang, Swalwell was a bachelor. In Washington circles, Swalwell gained a reputation for his playboy lifestyle and was known for picking up women at popular D.C. watering holes, congressional sources have said for years.
The alleged relationship was one of several reasons for the F.B.I. investigation occurring sometime in 2015, according to a Southern Alameda County official who was interviewed by agents. However, at the time, it was unclear to the official if the F.B.I. was acting on suspicions of wrongdoing by Swalwell or whether he may have been compromised by Fang in order to gain some type of favor, the official said. Bill Harrison, the mayor of Fremont at the time, told Axios that he was also interviewed by the F.B.I around the same time.
Fang then disappeared and was never heard from again, Axios reports. But she left behind her personal Facebook page. Left virtually untouched for years, the page includes a treasure trove a photographs featuring herself with nearly every elected official in the area. Over the years, the Facebook page has left political insiders to wonder who was Christine Fang and what was she doing in Alameda County?
Almost every Fremont and Tri-Valley elected official and political insider seems to hold the same vivid memories of Fang. Many remarked that she appeared to have come out of nowhere and was suddenly meeting every local official and seemingly showing up at every event. Others also described holding deep-seated suspicions about her intentions. After news broke on Monday, some of those same individuals did not express surprise about the revelations, but certainly did not expect a spy was among them.
Malia Vella, currently an Alameda councilmember, but at the time of Fang’s interactions in Southern Alameda County politics, was a district director for Hayward and Fremont Assemblymember Bill Quirk. Vella said she always viewed Fang with apprehension.
Vella made a point of placing herself between Fang and Quirk or asking a staffer to do the same because Fang was often “touchy-feely” with other male elected officials. “It was the last thing I wanted him to get embroiled in,” Vella said.
The shielding of Quirk from Fang may have worked. The Hayward assemblymember is the only prominent elected official from the area not known to have been photographed with Fang.
The list of those who did is a who’s who of Southern Alameda County and Tri-Valley officials. In addition to Swalwell and Khanna, they include Harrison, current Fremont Mayor Lily Mei (in which Fang is wearing an extremely skimpy pair of jeans shorts), Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty, state Sen. Bob Wieckowski, future Alameda County Assessor Phong La, state Treasurer Fiona Ma, former Rep. Mike Honda, former Hayward Councilmembers Anna May and Greg Jones, Fremont Councilmember Raj Salwan, Alameda County Supervisor-elect David Haubert, Dublin Mayor-elect Melissa Hernandez.
Fang’s expensive manner of dress also stood out to Vella and others who declined to speak on the record. “I would go to these events wearing business attire and she was always dressed up like she was going to a cocktail party or a nightclub,” Vella said. Fang also appeared to be grooming younger women in the Southern Alameda County political scene. She was privately upfront with some young women about urging them to use their femininity with male elected officials in order to climb the political ladder, said two individuals who would only speak on background.
Fang was enrolled at Cal State East Bay during this time, according to Axios. At the university she joined a number of Asian American student groups and then local Asian-Pacific Islander organizations. Although young, others recall that Fang appeared older than a typical college student, another fact that caused suspicion at the time. Axios reported Fang was likely in her late 20s or early 30s.
When it comes to Fang allegedly bundling campaign contributions for Swalwell’s first re-election bid in 2014, the Axios article does not mention illegal contributions are now known to have been made to Swalwell’s campaign during the same election cycle. A prominent Asian American developer named James Tong was convicted last year for illegal contributions to the congressmember’s campaign. Tong, a major player in Tri-Valley politics and real estate, was one of Swalwell’s few influential supporters during his upset victory in 2012 over long-time Rep. Pete Stark. Two years later, Tong used family members as “straw men” to contribute $38,000 to Swalwell’s campaign. The legal limit for individuals donations at the time was $2,500. Swalwell said he had no knowledge of Tong’s illegal contributions until being contacted by the F.B.I in 2017.
While Swalwell said he cut off any contact with Fang after being alerted by the F.B.I in 2015, the presence of potential espionage in the Fremont area remains. Last year, Fremont Councilmember Teresa Keng raised alarms when she created a fake city proclamation for an organization known to be backed by the Chinese Communist Party. Of great concern was the fact that Keng, who was born in Taiwan, had falsely offered the city government of Fremont’s support for China’s intervention in Taiwan. Unwittingly, Keng provided a talking point for China’s foreign policy objective that is vehemently opposed by the United States government.
Also alarming for local government in Alameda County is the potential that former and current elected officials, in addition to Swalwell, could have also been compromised by their personal interactions with Fang. Among the bevy of rumors surrounding Fang was that if she, indeed, had a sexual relationship with Swalwell, he was not the only one among Alameda County officials. In this case, embarrassing personal information that could later be used as blackmail may have been obtained on elected officials at every level of local government in Alameda County, including the city level in Fremont and the Tri-Valley, the county level, the state Senate district, and both south county congressional districts.