Asian American groups urge rejection of nominee for U.S. Attorney in Tennessee’s Eastern District

Casey Arrowood prosecuted University of Tennessee professor now cleared of spying charges

By: - August 31, 2022 7:00 am
President Joe Biden kicked off the general election campaign season with a speech at a Democratic National Committee rally in Maryland on Thursday, Aug. 25. Photo by (Danielle E. Gaines/Maryland Matters)

President Joe Biden kicked off the general election campaign season with a speech at a Democratic National Committee rally in Maryland on Thursday, Aug. 25. Photo by (Danielle E. Gaines/Maryland Matters)

Advocacy groups across the nation are calling on the Biden administration and the Senate Judiciary Committee to reject the nomination of Casey Arrowood for U.S. Attorney of the Eastern District of Tennessee.

The Biden administration in August nominated Arrowood for the top job at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Knoxville despite his role in the wrongful prosecution of University of Tennessee professor Dr. Anming Hu as part of former President Donald Trump’s “China Initiative.”

In an exclusive interview with the Tennessee Lookout earlier this month, Hu called the nomination “ridiculous” and shocking and has since penned a letter to President Joe Biden urging him to withdraw Arrowood’s name from consideration.

After the story was published, a slew of advocacy groups, including APA Justice, Asian American Scholar Forum, Tennessee Chinese American Alliance and United Chinese Americans, have teamed up with Hu to try to defeat Arrowood’s nomination.

“The nomination of Mr. Arrowood is an affront to the Asian American, immigrant and scientific communities,” the groups stated in a letter-writing campaign notice. “It opens a new wound when we still need to heal from the targeting and fallout before and during the ‘China Initiative.’”

Hu is an internationally-renown nanotechnology expert who was targeted by FBI Agent Kujtim Sadiku under the Trump administration’s “China Initiative,” which the former president touted as an effort to rid the U.S. of Chinese spies.

Anming Hu, Ph.D. (Photo: University of Tennessee)
Anming Hu, Ph.D. (Photo: University of Tennessee)

Hu was the first person to be prosecuted and tried in the U.S. under that initiative.

The “China Initiative” purported to ferret out economic Chinese spies operating in America. In practice, however, Chinese professors and researchers at American universities became the primary targets of prosecution efforts.

‘Unjust prosecution’

Armed solely with a Chinese press released translated on the fly via Google, Sadiku in 2018 falsely accused Hu of being a spy, tried to press the UT professor into spying on China for the U.S. government and, when Hu refused, spent more than a year surveilling Hu and his teenage son, trial testimony showed.

When that surveillance turned up no evidence of espionage by Hu, testimony showed, Sadiku and other federal agents convinced UT leaders to help ensnare Hu by approving his proposal for a NASA research grant — without telling Hu the project could run afoul of an obscure provision of the law that the university had repeatedly insisted did not apply to Hu or any of its professors.

Arrowood then mounted a wire fraud case against Hu in 2020. When Hu refused to plead guilty in the case, Arrowood took it to trial. The case proved so weak a jury in U.S. District Court deadlocked. When Arrowood threatened to retry Hu, U.S. District Judge Tom Varlan stepped in and tossed the case out of court last year.

The Biden administration has since conceded the “China Initiative” was flawed, leading the Department of Justice to scrap it earlier this year. Hu was among more than a half dozen Chinese academics and researchers at American universities who were arrested on non-espionage charges under the “China Initiative” before the program was abandoned.

In letters obtained by the Tennessee Lookout, the advocacy groups are calling on President Joe Biden to withdraw Arrowood’s nomination and asking members of the Senate Judiciary Committee to postpone any action on the nomination until an investigation of Arrowood has been conducted and public hearings held.

“Although the Department of Justice announced the end of the ill-conceived program in February 2022, its discriminatory and reckless prosecutions inflicted severe damage to the lives and careers of many innocent individuals including Professor Hu, an internationally-renown nanotechnology expert,” the advocacy groups wrote in their letter to Biden on Arrowood’s nomination.

“Mr. Arrowood’s wrongful prosecution of Professor Hu betrayed the public trust and confidence we all place in our judicial system,” the letter stated. Mr. Arrowood demonstrated his poor judgment, wasted valuable taxpayers’ dollars, failed to uphold justice and fairness, and eroded public trust.

“His unjust prosecution of Professor Hu, not once but twice, is deplorable and an embarrassment to our nation,” the letter continued. “In summary, Mr. Arrowood’s track record does not meet the high requirements and expectations for a U.S. Attorney. We strongly support Professor Hu’s request for the withdrawal of the nomination of Mr. Casey Arrowood to be the next U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee.”

Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Her office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Arrowood’s nomination.

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Jamie Satterfield
Jamie Satterfield

Jamie Satterfield is an investigative journalist with more than 33 years of experience, specializing in legal affairs, policing, public corruption, environmental crime and civil rights violations. Her journalism has been honored as some of the best in the nation, earning recognition from the Scripps Howard Foundation, the Society of Professional Journalists’ Sigma Delta Chi Awards, the Green Eyeshade Awards, the Tennessee Press Association, the Tennessee Managing Editors Association, the First Amendment Center and many other industry organizations. Her work has led to criminal charges against wrongdoers, changes in state law and citations in legal opinions and journals. She was married to the love of her life for 28 years and is now a widow and proud mother of two successful children of good character and work ethic.