British Columbia

Crown in Meng Wanzhou case fights to exclude former Obama official's criticism of Trump

Canada’s attorney general says the judge overseeing Meng Wanzhou’s extradition case should not consider evidence from a former Democratic White House lawyer who has slammed U.S. President Donald Trump’s alleged involvement in the case.

Former associate White House counsel claims Trump's alleged interference a violation of norms

Canada's attorney general says the judge overseeing Meng Wanzhou's extradition should not allow evidence from a former White House official who is critical of U.S. President Donald Trump's involvement in the case. (Canadian Press photos)

Canada's attorney general says the judge overseeing Meng Wanzhou's extradition case should not consider evidence from a former Democratic White House lawyer who has slammed U.S. President Donald Trump's alleged involvement in the case.

Michael J. Gottlieb served as special assistant and associate White House counsel for former President Barack Obama.

In an opinion prepared for the Huawei executive's defence team last summer, Gottlieb said "Trump's stated desire to use Meng's criminal prosecution as a bargaining chip in trade negotiations with China violates long held policies and norms, enshrined in over 50 years of administration policy against political intervention in individual criminal cases."

But in court documents released Wednesday the Crown claims Gottlieb's opinions are neither relevant to Meng's efforts to bring an end to the case, nor appropriate to an extradition hearing.

"An extradition judge's jurisdiction to hear abuse of process allegations is not a gateway for a free-ranging inquiry into the conduct of foreign authorities and into foreign law," the Crown says in its submissions.

"This evidence should not be admitted."

'Unprecedented interference and politicization'

Meng was arrested two years ago this week at Vancouver's airport.

The United States wants her extradited to New York to face charges of fraud. The 48-year-old is accused of lying to an HSBC executive about Huawei's control of a subsidiary that allegedly violated U.S. economic sanctions against Iran.

Michael J. Gottlieb served as a special assistant and associate White House counsel to former U.S. President Barack Obama. He prepared an opinion that is critical of current U.S. President Donald Trump's involvement in the Meng Wanzhou case. (B.C. Supreme Court)

Prosecutors claim that by relying on Meng's assurances to continue a financial relationship with Huawei, HSBC was placed at risk of loss and prosecution.

The defence plans to use Gottlieb's opinion to bolster Meng's claims that Trump's alleged politicization of the case has undermined the fairness of the proceedings, creating an "ominous environment" that warrants a stay of proceedings.

The allegation largely relates to statements Trump made to Reuters in the days after Meng's arrest on Dec. 1, 2018, in which he said, "If I think it's good for what will certainly be the largest trade deal ever made — which is a very important thing — what's good for national security — I would certainly intervene."

In his opinion, Gottlieb cites "unprecedented interference and politicization of Justice Department prosecutions and investigations" throughout the four years of Trump's presidency. 

He refers to Trump firing former Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey, his stated opposition to former Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation and the recent commutation of a prison sentence for Trump confidante Roger Stone.

Evidence doesn't show any actual interference

Gottlieb says allowing politics to influence the legal process would undermine public confidence and be "unfair to the defendant who has no control over the actions of the foreign trade partner."

The Crown will argue to exclude Gottlieb's evidence at a hearing in the new year.

They claim his report would force Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes to embark on a consideration of foreign legal principles that are well outside her range of expertise.

Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou leaves her house for B.C. Supreme Court. The 48-year-old claims she is being used as a political bargaining chip. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Prosecutors say Gottlieb relies on Trump's public statements, but that his evidence "does not establish that there has actually been any interference with prosecutorial authorities in this case."

"Simply put, neither the facts Mr. Gottlieb asserts about law and policy, nor the inferences he draws about the conduct of American officials, shed any light on the key facts at issue," the Crown argues.

"That is, the comments at issue in this case, and whether they have caused prejudice to the fairness of these judicial proceedings or the integrity of the Canadian justice system."

Alleged violations of rights 

The arguments over Trump's involvement will take place next spring alongside defence claims that Canadian and U.S. authorities conspired to violate Meng's rights at the time of her arrest by having customs officers question her without a lawyer before she was informed of the charges.

The defence team also plans to argue that the U.S. provided Canada with a misleading record of the case against Meng in order to justify her arrest.

Testimony is expected to resume next Monday from the RCMP and CBSA officers who were involved in the events surrounding Meng's first hours on Canadian soil.

Meng, who is the daughter of Huawei's billionaire founder, is living under a form of house arrest as part of the conditions of her release on $10 million bail.

She has denied the allegations against her. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jason Proctor

@proctor_jason

Jason Proctor is a reporter in British Columbia for CBC News and has covered the B.C. courts and mental health issues in the justice system extensively.

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