Feds Ask Judge to Remove Lead Defense Lawyer in Huawei Case

James Cole, left, Michael Alexander Levy, center, and David Bitkower, right, lawyers for the Chinese electronics giant Huawei, leave Brooklyn federal court in New York on March 14, 2019. Huawei faces charges in the case of violating Iran trade sanctions. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

(CN) Vancouver, B.C. – The U.S. government wants former Deputy Attorney General James Cole to recuse himself as an attorney for embattled Chinese tech giant Huawei Technologies, claiming his participation in related investigations during his tenure with the Department of Justice represents an “obvious conflict of interest.”

In a partially redacted motion released Friday, the federal government claims Cole’s past role as deputy attorney general made him privy to confidential information that could potentially be used against his former client.

“Cole’s continued representation of the defendants poses real and irresolvable conflicts of interest,” the motion states. “The government has an interest in a fair trial and obtaining a conviction that can be defended on appeal and from collateral attack. Those interests are at risk if Cole represents the defendants, because they cannot give the informed consent required to validly waive Cole’s conflicts.”

Even if Huawei were to waive Cole’s alleged conflicts, the government claims, a conviction or guilty plea could be imperiled on appeal if the company later claimed ineffective assistance of counsel.

“Given the serious unwaived and unwaivable conflicts at issue with Cole’s representation, and given that the defendants are represented by other skilled counsel without any apparent conflicts, the Court should not permit Cole’s representation of Huawei to continue,” the motion states.

Details of the related investigations in which Cole participated are redacted in the motion, but the government claims the DOJ informed Cole of the alleged conflict in January 2019, several weeks after the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in Canada. Wanzhou is currently on house arrest in Vancouver fighting her potential extradition, while the company faces more than a dozen charges of fraud tied to the company’s activities in Iran.

But Cole denies having a conflict of interest, and refused to bow out of the case, writing on March 6 that his firm had “carefully considered the material you showed us and were unable to determine that I need to be disqualified based on that information.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. government claims Cole’s participation poses “a significant risk that he will breach his duties of confidentiality and loyalty to the Department in the course of that representation.”

“Cole’s work on these related matters creates the real risk that he will breach his duty of confidentiality to the DOJ by relying on information he obtained while representing the Department in the course of his representation of the defendants. Moreover, there is a risk that Cole will breach his duty of loyalty to the Department by making arguments on behalf of the defendants that contradict positions he previously took while representing the DOJ,” the motion states.

The court, prosecutors claim, should disqualify Cole based on the “substantial risk” that he’ll use his prior knowledge of confidential information to “materially advance Huawei’s current defense strategy.”

Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou is due back in a Canadian court late September, while the company faces trade secret theft allegations in the state of Washington. The company has denied all wrongdoing and claims Meng’s arrest was unlawful.  

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