Back in April, when Manhattan prosecutors charged Donald Trump with falsifying business records, the MAGA faithful who protested outside the courthouse included some with legal issues of their own. Followers of the exiled Chinese mogul Guo Wengui, who had been arrested a few weeks earlier on fraud charges, were there. Fabulist Congressman George Santos (R-N.Y.)—who at the time was facing an investigation that would eventually lead to his arrest on campaign finance charges — showed up, too.
It was clear then what was going on. Anyone with a legal problem and a fleeting link to Trump would attempt to claim that they, too, were victims of the vast Deep State conspiracy that the former president insists is targeting him and his backers.
And so it’s gone. Even before the arrest of Guo, his supporters had worked to get a House subcommittee on the “weaponization” of the federal government interested in their fantastical claims that the Chinese Communist Party has manipulated the US court system to try to silence Guo, who has bankrolled far right disinformation efforts. In April, on his War Room show, Steve Bannon—the former Trump aide who Guo has paid to advise him—expanded on the Guo backers’ theory, stretching it to include the fraud charges New York prosecutors hit him with last year.
“The three top anti-CCP fighters, Donald Trump, Miles Guo, Steven K. Bannon, all indicted in southern Manhattan,” Bannon said, deploying an anglicized name Guo often uses, while leaving listeners to figure out why and how the CCP had supposedly arranged for local and federal officials to charge their top enemies in a particular geographic area.
On May 5, Santos took up Guo’s cause, announcing he would fight to “free Miles Guo.” When Santos himself was indicted five days later, following a months-long, highly publicized federal investigation, Santos suggested he, too, had fallen victim to the same conspiracy, tweeting, “I asked questions about #MilesGuo & the DOJ indicts me 5 days later!”
Oath Keepers’ founder Stewart Rhodes, imprisoned for seditious conspiracy and other crimes for his role in the January 6 attack, also recently identified himself as a victim of the persecution campaign. “They’re going to do the same thing to President Trump that they did to me,” Rhodes told the Washington Times.
The latest entrant to this club is Gal Luft, a fugitive and former head of a nominal Washington tank tank. In an indictment unsealed Monday, federal prosecutors in Manhattan charged Luft with acting as an unregistered foreign agent for China. Luft allegedly worked with representatives from a Chinese government-linked company to pay a former US government official to advocate in the US for Chinese interests. Luft is also charged with violating US sanctions on Iran, lying to federal agents, and engaging in unlicensed arms trafficking—he allegedly helped Chinese companies sell weapons to Libya, the United Arab Emirates, and Kenya.
Luft—who has been on the lam, whereabouts unknown—since he fled while on pre-trial release after his February arrest in Cyprus, says that he is innocent. He contends the Justice Department is prosecuting him in an effort to shut down his allegations that a Chinese company paid Biden family members in 2017 for political influence.
GOP lawmakers seem sold. House Oversight Committee chair Jim Comer (R-Ky.) suggested the DOJ had unsealed the indictment in a bid to stop Luft from testifying about the Bidens to the committee. “The timing is always coincidental, according to the Democrats at the Department of Justice,” Comer told Fox News host Laura Ingraham Monday night. Since Luft remains a fugitive, it’s not clear how unsealing the indictment alters the panel’s ability to get information from him. Comer didn’t get into that.
“Is DOJ trying to silence Dr. Gal Luft from publicly exposing Biden family corruption?” Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) asked recently. Luft’s supporters immediately began highlighting Johnson’s query in an online fundraising pitch to “Free Whistleblower Gal Luft”—presumably in the event he is captured first.
— Gal Luft (@GalLuft) July 10, 2023
Luft is charged for conduct that occurred mostly in 2016 and 2017. The lobbying allegations boil down to Luft accepting payments from the China Energy Fund Committee (CEFC), a non-governmental organization, to recruit a former US government official—a person whose description matches former CIA Director James Woolsey—”to make public statements…which were in the interest of China.”
The indictment alleges that a CEFC official who arranged these payments to Luft also worked with Luft to broker illegal sales of Chinese arms and to help China evade US sanctions on Iran. That person is unnamed in the indictment. But the description matches Patrick Ho, a former Hong Kong and CEFC official who was arrested in the United States late 2017 and later convicted of bribery and fraud. (Efforts to reach Woolsey and Ho were not successful.) According to prosecutors, Luft left the US following Ho’s arrest and has not returned since.
Luft claims that Ho and CEFC—the same person and company he was allegedly working with—also corruptly influenced the Biden family. It has already been reported that CEFC paid Hunter Biden and his uncle James, President Biden’s brother, millions of dollars for consulting work in 2017 and 2018. But Luft alleged in a video he shared with the New York Post last week that those payments were meant to secure, as the Post put it, “use of the Biden name to promote China’s Belt and Road Initiative.” Luft also told the Post that Joe Biden, sometime in early 2017, attended a meeting at the Four Seasons Hotel in Washington with Hunter and CEFC officials.
In other words, Luft is claiming that CEFC didn’t illegally pay Luft to secretly lobby for China, as the DOJ alleges—but that CEFC did pay the Bidens for pretty much the same thing. And now the Bidens are prosecuting him to shut him up.
By Luft’s own account, he first shared allegations about the Bidens during an interview with federal agents in March 2019. He was indicted, under seal, in November 2022. The DOJ unsealed that indictment Monday.
This might may seem complicated. But the timeline here strongly suggests that Luft began making allegations about the Bidens and CEFC after he learned he faced legal trouble for his work with CEFC. He presumably knew that he was at least potentially facing investigation prior to meeting with federal agents in 2019.
That does not necessarily mean Luft’s claims about the Bidens are made up. But it does make it difficult to credit Luft’s contention that he is being prosecuted because of his allegations. His allegations instead seem more likely to result from his prosecution.
Republicans like Johnson and Comer, however, profess to accept Luft’s whole, self-serving story. Their credulousness is a tribute to the ineluctable resilience of MAGA logic prevailing in the closed loop of Fox News and pro-Trump lawmakers. As Philip Bump wrote in the Washington Post: “Not only are anti-Biden claims taken at face value, any skepticism about those allegations or, again as in the case of Luft, external indicators of unreliability are themselves folded into a voluminous conspiracy theory.” Trump’s insistence that the DOJ is prosecuting him on Biden’s orders seems to have helped prime his fans to swallow almost any theory about the department’s perfidy, no matter how implausible.
The charges against Luft include allegations that he lied to federal law enforcement officials during an interview at the United States Embassy in Brussels in 2019. As journalist Marcy Wheeler noted, that seems to be the same interview in which Luft first aired allegations about the Bidens. For most people, and presumably for the Justice Department, indications Luft lied in the interview undermine the credibility of his whole story. But the MAGA worldview prepares adherents to view such information as confirmation of their theory, evidence of how effectively the DOJ framed Luft.
With this kind of reception available, it is a wonder that more alleged criminals have not styled themselves as pro-Trump “whistleblowers.” But its a good bet more are coming.