China's ZTE Hires Lieberman, Drawing Fire From Elizabeth Warren

(Bloomberg) -- Embattled Chinese telecommunications firm ZTE Corp.’s hiring of former Senator Joseph Lieberman has drawn sharp criticism from a Democratic presidential hopeful.

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, who’s made an issue of corporate influence in Washington, accused the company’s lobbyists of blocking accountability for the company, which she said violated U.S. sanctions on Iran and North Korea. On Monday, Warren launched a presidential exploratory committee, which allows her to raise money as she tests the waters for a 2020 run.

Lieberman, who was the Democratic party’s vice presidential nominee in 2000, is a senior counsel with Kasowitz Benson Torres, the law firm of President Donald Trump’s longtime personal attorney. He is conducting an "independent assessment" of what concerns members of Congress, the executive branch and U.S. businesses have about national security risks that ZTE’s products may pose, according to a disclosure form filed by the firm. The disclosure, first reported by the Center for Responsive Politics, says Lieberman started his work for ZTE in November and that he won’t advocate for the company.

Executive Order

Trump is considering an executive order effectively barring all American companies from using equipment made by ZTE and Huawei Technologies Co., Reuters reported last month, citing unidentified sources. Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying responded to the report by saying countries she didn’t name should produce facts to justify their cybersecurity concerns.

Earlier this year, the Trump administration banned ZTE from buying American technology and components, which threatened the company’s viability, before reversing course. Both ZTE and Huawei are banned from most U.S. government procurement work.

In her tweet criticizing him, Warren asked whether it should be legal for Lieberman, a four-term senator, to lobby for the firm. In a second tweet, she called for a lifetime ban on members of Congress from working as lobbyists. She also called for a ban on foreign lobbying, and cited legislation she’s proposed.

Lieberman, who left the Senate in 2013, was a foreign policy hawk, and a staunch supporter of the Iraq war. A free trader, he supported granting China most favored nation status and Chinese accession to the World Trade Organization.

Two Years

Under federal law, Senators leaving office must wait two years before lobbying their former colleagues. After two years, they can represent both U.S. and foreign clients, provided they register and disclose their activities.

It’s not the first time Lieberman has disclosed contacting Congress for a foreign client. In Nov. 2013, he filed under the Foreign Agents Registration Act to represent Basit Igtet, a Zurich-based entrepreneur and Libyan national considering a bid for political office in his native country, documents filed with the Justice Department show. The firm arranged meetings with members of Congress for Igtet, who ultimately chose not to run for office. Lieberman’s work for Igtet ended in Feb. 2014.

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