09 Jan 2019 | Zhenhua Lu | South China Morning Post
Nelson Cunningham, an assistant US attorney in the Southern District of New York from 1988-1994, told the South China Morning Post that the president had the “ultimate discretion” to decide on whether to pursue or drop a federal case.
“The president ultimately sets prosecution policy for the United States. In other words, the president could legitimately say [to the Justice Department] – this is the way that I would like this prosecution to be handled,” he said.
“That is under the constitutional structure. He is the boss and that chain of command goes down. When you get into international matters, of course he also has great discretion.”
Cunningham is also a former special adviser to former US president Bill Clinton on Western Hemisphere affairs.
Before being released on a US$7.5 million bail last month, Meng was arrested by Canadian authorities at Vancouver airport on December 1 at the request of the US government on suspicion of Iran sanctions fraud.
Meng is now living in Vancouver under 24-hour supervision, waiting to return to court on February 6 to set a date for her US extradition hearing. The US has until the end of January to file a formal extradition request.
Meng’s arrest came on the day Chinese President Xi Jinping and Trump met in Argentina, during which both nations agreed on a 90-day trade war truce.
Doubts have remained whether Trump or any of his senior advisers sitting across a table from Xi knew of the arrest before their working dinner in Buenos Aires.
On December 6, Bolton said in an interview with broadcaster National Public Radio that he learned of the arrest “in advance”, which was “something that we get from the Justice Department”.
The fact that Bolton was told of the arrest suggested that lower level officials “thought this was politically sensitive and ought to be brought to his [Bolton’s] attention”, Cunningham said.
“I don’t think that the national security adviser learns of many cases where there’s an international arrest being sought,” Cunningham, who is now president and co-founder of McLarty Associates, a Washington-based consulting firm, said.
Meng is vice-chairwoman and CFO of China’s telecoms giant Huawei, which was founded by her father Ren Zhengfei, a former People’s Liberation Army soldier. Beijing called the US’ action “extremely bad in nature”.
When asked if Trump knew about the arrest before the dinner, Bolton said: “I don’t know the answer to that”.
An anonymous US government official told Politico that Trump and most of his senior aides at the dinner with Xi in Buenos Aires learned about the extradition request after the meeting.
Later in the day after Bolton went on NPR, both Trump and Bolton’s media representative denied they knew of the arrest before the working dinner with Xi, CBS News reported.
In an interview with Reuters On December 11 Trump voiced his willingness to intervene in the Justice Department’s case against Meng if it would serve national security interests or help close a trade deal with China.
From Trump’s statement, Cunningham said the US president viewed Meng as an asset to be exchanged.
“I think the outcome of this case is likely to be decided by the White House and as part of an overall negotiation,” he said.