National security advisor John Bolton said Thursday “I knew in advance” that giant smartphone maker Huawei’s global CFO Meng Wanzhou would be arrested in Vancouver, Canada, at the behest of U.S. authorities — but President Donald Trump reportedly was in the dark about the planned bust.
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Bolton also said in an interview with National Public Radio set to air later Thursday that Huawei is a company that American officials have been concerned about for various reasons.
Bolton would not give details of the crime or crimes that U.S. federal prosecutors are alleging against Meng, the 46-year-old daughter of Huawei’s founder, Ren Zhengfei, according to a transcript of the interview released by NPR.
“I’d rather not get into the specifics of law enforcement matters,” said Bolton, who declined to answer whether the arrest was related to sanctions against Iran, as others claimed Thursday.
“But we’ve had enormous concerns for years about the — in this country — about the practice of Chinese firms to use stolen American intellectual property, to engage in forced technology transfers, and to be used as arms of the Chinese government’s objectives in terms of information technology in particular,” he said.
“So not respecting this particular arrest, but Huawei is one company we’ve been concerned about,” he said. “There are others as well. I think this is going to be a major subject of the negotiations that President Trump and President Xi Jinping agreed to in Buenos Aires.”
Meng was arrested Saturday, the same day that Trump and Bolton dined with China’s leader Xi at the G-20 summit in Buenos Aires.
Asked if Trump knew in advance that Meng’s arrest was going to occur, Bolton said, “I don’t know the answer to that.”
The Reuters news agency reported later Thursday, citing a White House official, that Trump had been unaware of the planned arrest at the time of that dinner.
“I knew in advance. This is something that we get from the Justice Department,” Bolton said. “And these kinds of things happen with some frequency. We certainly don’t inform the president on every one of them.”
When it was pointed out by NPR reporter Steve Inskeep that he would have known during the dinner with Xi that “this arrest was taking place,” Bolton replied, “Well, you know there are a lot of things that are pending at any given time.”
“You don’t know exactly what’s going to happen in terms of a particular law enforcement action,” Bolton said. “That depends on a lot of other circumstances.”
The White House did not immediately respond to CNBC’s query about whether Trump knew.
Meng’s arrest has infuriated Chinese officials, who have demanded her release, even as the Justice Department seeks her extradition to the United States.
The case also has further roiled an already strained trade relationship between the U.S. and China. The countries last week struck a 90-day truce in their trade squabble.
A person familiar with the matter told Reuters that Meng’s arrest is related to violations of U.S. sanctions. Iran is currently the subject of U.S. sanctions. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., said that Meng’s arrest was “for breaking U.S. sanctions against Iran.”
A court hearing on possible bail for Meng is scheduled for Friday.
Huawei said in a statement to The Globe and Mail newspaper in Canada that Meng faces “unspecified charges” in the Eastern District of New York, and that she was arrested when she was transferring flights.
“The company has been provided with very little information regarding the charges and is not aware of any wrongdoing by Ms. Meng,” the statement said. “The company believes the Canadian and U.S. legal systems will ultimately reach a just conclusion.”
Huawei also said the company “complies with all applicable laws and regulations where it operates, including applicable export control and sanction laws.”
On Thursday, Sen. Mark R. Warner, D-Va., the vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and committee member Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said they have urged Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “to reconsider Huawei’s inclusion in any aspect of Canada’s 5G development, introduction, and maintenance.”
In a joint press release, the senators said, “The entry of Chinese state-directed telecommunications companies like Huawei into the Canadian market could seriously jeopardize the relationship between U.S. and Canadian carriers, depriving North American operators of the scale needed to rapidly build out 5G networks.”