Asia, Business & trade, New in Lobbying, US-China tensions

Ex-GOP aides disclose work for Chinese state company accused of stealing US tech

A public relations firm run by former Republican aides has just disclosed months-old work for a Chinese chip-maker accused of stealing US technology.

Alexandria-based Blueprint Communications notified the Department of Justice on July 15 that it had signed a contract for “communications and media relations consulting” on behalf of the Fujian Jinhua Integrated Circuit Company back in February 2020. The contract is for $17,500 per month for an initial six-month period.

Blueprint Communications is working as a subcontractor for Steptoe & Johnson, which itself registered to lobby for Fujian Jinhua back in March 2019. Blueprint co-founders Chad Kolton and James Morrell, both veterans of the George W. Bush White House, are registered as foreign agents on the account.

Neither Kolton nor Morrell responded to requests for comment about the timing of their registration. It comes as the Department of Justice has been putting firms on notice that they must register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) for a broad range of activities, including public relations.

Fujian Jinhua has attracted outsize media attention as the first company targeted under the “China initiative” that the Justice Department launched in 2018. A federal grand jury charged the state-owned company back in November 2018 of involvement in a conspiracy to steal trade secrets from Micron Technology of Idaho, the only US-based company to manufacture dynamic random-access memory (DRAM).

The allegations led the US Commerce Department to cut off Fujian Jinhua from US suppliers in October 2018, a decision the company has been fighting ever since. Its fortunes have only gotten worse since then: Last month, the US issued arrest warrants for the former president of Fujian Jinhua and two engineers.

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Fujian Jinhua has hired several other firms to counter the Trump administration’s allegations:

  • Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck: Hired in April 2019; paid $910,000 since then;
  • Kobre & Kim: Hired in January 2019, terminated April 30, 2020; paid $540,000 over the period;
  • Consultant Jim Handy: Paid $20,000 in 2019.

FARA filings from Kobre & Kim indicate Kolton and Morrell were working for Fujian Jinhua as far back as January 2019. Neither of them registered under FARA at the time.

As for Steptoe & Johnson, its contract calls for the firm to be paid $30,000 per month for government relations work and hourly rates for legal work related to removing the company from the Commerce Department entities blacklist. Registered as foreign agents for Steptoe are Douglas Kantor and Allison Nyholm.