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• To avoid the appearance of conflict of interest as his wife ran for vice president, attorney Douglas Emhoff in August took leave from his firm, DLA Piper, where he has been a partner since 2017.
• An article on a conservative news website alleged that several DLA Piper employees have ties to the Chinese Communist Party. But it never claimed that Emhoff himself represented the CCP and we found no evidence that he has.
• Foreign policy experts told us that the CCP has over 90 million members and that it’s difficult for a firm in the country to avoid doing business with anybody with party ties.
A Facebook post suggests that lawyer Douglas Emhoff, Sen. Kamala Harris’ husband, has close ties to the Chinese government.
"Kamala’s husband, a lawyer, represents the Communist Chinese Party in America!! Think about that!!" the Oct. 30 post reads.
It was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
That’s because the claim doesn’t hold water.
Douglas Emhoff isn’t practicing law at the moment, but he used to specialize in entertainment, business and real estate. In August, when Harris became the Democratic nominee for vice president, he took a leave of absence from DLA Piper, where he has been a partner in Los Angeles since 2017, to avoid the appearance that he and his wife had any conflicts of interest.
We found no evidence that Emhoff has ever represented the Chinese Communist Party. Reports in the New York Times and the Washington Post about Emhoff’s legal career don’t note any connections to the Chinese Communist Party.
Emhoff is not required to publicly disclose a full list of his clients by federal law and we find no record that he has. The Biden/Harris campaign did not respond to our inquiry about his clients in time for publication. However, we searched for a possible source for the Facebook post’s allegations and found a Sept. 5 article published by National Pulse, a conservative news site led by former Breitbart editor Raheem Kassam.
National Pulse does not claim that Emhoff was a member of the CCP or that he represented the Chinese government. Rather, the story speculates that Emhoff’s past employment at the firm could constitute a conflict of interest for Harris because the law firm allegedly "employs a host of former Chinese Communist Party officials" and has represented some state-affiliated Chinese companies.
The second-largest law firm in the U.S., DLA Piper employs lawyers in more than 40 countries. Of the nearly 4,000 attorneys working for the firm, the National Pulse article identifies two employees with ties to the Chinese Communist Party, both of whom work in Hong Kong. (Emhoff is based in California.) It also notes that a consultant at the firm "advised" the Chinese embassy in Canberra, Australia, and that a DLA Piper lawyer represented investors in deals with Bytedance, the parent company of TikTok.
In addition, the article reports that the firm represented some state-backed companies, including two Chinese airlines and the China Merchants Group, a government-owned conglomerate based in Hong Kong. However, the story doesn’t provide evidence that Emhoff himself represented these companies. A DLA Piper press release about the firm’s involvement with the China Merchants Group mentions two other lawyers leading the negotiations.
Foreign policy experts told PolitiFact that none of this proves that the firm is subject to undue CCP influence. Rather, it reflects the way that business and government are intertwined in China.
In the U.S., corporations generally operate as independent actors, whereas in China, the Communist Party routinely exercises influence over companies and businesses. As China analyst Ashley Feng wrote in Foreign Policy, "Chinese domestic laws and administrative guidelines, as well as unspoken regulations and internal party committees, make it quite difficult to distinguish between what is private and what is state-owned."
David Dollar, the U.S. Treasury’s former economic and financial emissary to China, told PolitiFact that the sheer number of Chinese Communist Party members makes it difficult for multinational firms to avoid them entirely.
"The CCP has about 90 million members, so it would be difficult to do business in China without doing business with some of them," he wrote in an email.
If DLA Piper has CCP party members on its payroll, that doesn’t indicate that it has close ties to the Chinese government, Dollar said. Rather, it’s a reflection of the way that business and government in the country overlap.
A Facebook post claims, "Kamala’s husband, a lawyer, represents the Communist Chinese Party in America!!"
We could find no evidence that Douglas Emhoff has represented the CCP. Emhoff is currently on leave from his law firm.
The post seems to inaccurately summarize an article in National Pulse, which alleges that several employees of DLA Piper have ties to the CCP.
However, foreign policy experts told us that it’s difficult for a multinational firm to entirely avoid doing business with the CCP, when over 90 million Chinese are party members.
We rate this post False.
PolitiFact researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.
A Facebook post, Oct. 30, 2020
DLA Piper, About Us, accessed Nov. 1, 2020
DLA Piper, DLA Piper advises China Merchants Group on US$2.5 billion investment in China's JD.com logistic arm, Feb. 15, 2018
Foreign Policy, We can’t tell if Chinese firms work for the party, Feb. 7, 2019
The Guardian, How the state runs business in China, July 25, 2019
New York Times, Doug Emhoff, Kamala Harris’s husband, takes a leave of absence from his law firm, Aug. 17, 2020
New York Times, Will Doug Emhoff’s legal career be an issue for the Biden-Harris ticket? Oct. 6, 2020
U.S. Department of Justice, Foreign Agents Registration Act database, accessed Nov. 2, 2020
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