Updated, Jan. 20, 2022: Government drops all charges.
Lawyers for Gang Chen, an MIT nanotechnology expert, today asked a federal judge to sanction local US Attorney Andrew Lelling for what they said was his attempt to gin up Chen's charges of failing to properly fill out grant applications by making it sound like the professor was somehow engaged in something far more nefarious.
And even those charges, that Chen failed to note Chinese contracts and a Chinese bank account in federal grant applications, are "ill-advised and unsubstantiated," represent the dying gasp of blatant anti-Chinese bias in "the waning hours of the Trump Administration" and violate court rules against lawyers making public statements that "will interfere with a fair trial or otherwise prejudice the due administration of justice."
Chen was arrested on Jan. 14 on federal charges of wire fraud, failing to file a foreign bank account report and making a false statement in a tax return.
In their request for sanctions, lawyers Brian Kelly and Robert Fisher argue:
The Complaint and subsequent indictment in no way allege that Professor Chen - a United States citizen for more than 20 years - betrayed the United States, such as by violating export controls laws or passing classified information(to which, in any case, Professor Chen does not have access).
Nevertheless, a few hours after the Complaint was unsealed, Lelling held a press conference in which he made numerous false, highly inflammatory statements to the media that violated this Court's local rules by questioning Professor Chen's "character and reputation"and offering an "opinion as to the accused's guilt or innocence as to the merits of the case or the evidence in the case." For instance, Lelling claimed: The allegations of the complaint imply that this was not just about greed, but about loyalty to China. Lelling's speculation about whether Professor Chen is loyal to the United States - where he has spent his entire adult life - is grossly insulting and certainly speaks to Professor Chen's "character and reputation" in violation of the local rules. 3In addition, Lelling's statement does not actually reflect the allegations of the Complaint. Professor Chen has not been charged with any of the numerous crimes in the United States Code that suggest loyalty to a foreign country; rather he has been charged with making an error on federal forms. There is nothing in the Complaint to suggest that Chen is not loyal to the United States.
The lawyers also point to a press release issued by Lelling's office that includes a portion of an e-mail Chen sent himself that makes it sound like Chen is reminding himself of his obligations to the Chinese motherland that, they say, was actually notes of somebody else's statements at a lecture he attended, not his own thoughts - and that the press release left off the last line of that e-mail they say makes it obvious he was not agreeing, just summarizing the comments as a way of figuring out how MIT might react to them.
They also point to a statement by MIT President L. Rafael Reif that the government got one of its allegations completely wrong, because one of the contracts with a Chinese university concern is with an entire MIT department, not Chen personally:
he agreement provides $25 million to be paid to MIT over five years. Of that sum, $19 million is for collaborative research and educational activities, and $6 million is designated as a gift to support MIT building renovation projects and an endowed graduate fellowship. To date, MIT has received about half of the amount committed under the agreement, which has been allocated to support research and educational activities of a number of Mechanical Engineering faculty members, as well as fellowships and various operational expenses. In other words, these funds are about advancing the work of a group of colleagues, and the research and educational mission of MIT.
The lawyers conclude by asking the judge in the case to publicly reprimand Lelling, to require Lelling to knock it off with the biased statements and to either delete the press release that quotes the e-mail message or provide additional e-mail that shows Chen was not secretly working to advance purely Chinese interests.