NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. prosecutors asked a judge on Wednesday to disqualify a former deputy attorney general as the lead defense lawyer in the bank fraud case against Chinese electronics giant Huawei.
Prosecutors argued at a hearing in Brooklyn federal court that James Cole should be removed because he had access to classified information from an earlier investigation related to Huawei during his previous job at the Justice Department. Cole was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2010 and served until 2015 before going into private practice.
The case is unfolding under heightened tensions over U.S accusations that China is using predatory tactics to turn Chinese companies into leaders in tech fields such as communications, robotics and electric vehicles. On Wednesday, Huawei accused U.S. authorities of attempting to break into its information systems and of trying to coerce its employees to gather information on the company.
Prosecutors have argued that Cole should be disqualified to prevent him from disclosing classified information to Huawei in the defense of the No. 2 smartphone maker.
"We don't think it's a close call," prosecutor David Kessler told U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly.
Cole sat by in silence as another defense attorney, Michael Levy, complained to the judge that the government was concealing any proof of a conflict of interest. He suggested the government motion to disqualify Cole was a tactical maneuver that could strip Huawei of its right to choose who represents it.
"They are entitled to a lawyer, and he is the lawyer they want," Levy said before the judge closed the courtroom for arguments related to classified information.
Defense papers have said Cole "has no recollection of any prior representation that would form the basis for disqualification."
Huawei has pleaded not guilty to charges that the company and the daughter of its founder misled banks in an alleged plot to violate Iran trade sanctions. The daughter, Meng Wanzhou, was arrested late last year in Canada, where she's denied the charges and is fighting extradition to the United States.
In a separate case filed in Seattle, prosecutors have accused Huawei of engaging in a scheme to steal the technology behind a robotic device that Bellevue, Washington-based T-Mobile used to test smartphones. Huawei also pleaded not guilty to those charges.