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Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker announces the Huawei charges. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

The allegations behind the Department of Justice's two new sets of charges against Chinese tech giant Huawei, announced Monday, had been discussed for years. But the U.S. made its move against Huawei at a critical moment for the Trump administration's high-stakes trade negotiations, as a Chinese delegation arrives in the U.S. for talks that begin tomorrow.

Why it matters: The trade talks are surrounded by a tightening knot of scandals for the world's largest telecommunications equipment provider. Even before yesterday's announcement, a growing number of countries had announced bans on Huawei's 5G wares due to allegations they were sabotaged for use in Chinese espionage.

What they're saying: "There’s no way to separate the charges from the trade issue," said Thomas Duesterberg, Hudson Institute fellow and former assistant secretary for international economic policy at the Commerce Department. "The negotiations are in some ways meant to correct the advantages China got through activities that led to the charges."

The charges:

  • One set of charges being tried in Washington state says Huawei personnel stole the technology used in a T-Mobile robot that tests phones.
  • A second set, this time in New York, alleges that Huawei repeatedly misstated its relationship to an Hong Kong-based firm, Skycom, which the DOJ says was actually a subsidiary operating in violation of the sanctions.
  • Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Canada in December as part of the second set of charges.

An easy inference to make is that the two sets of arrests were intended to influence the trade negotiations with China scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday.

  • Not so fast, some experts argue. While Trump has intimated that he might use Meng as a bargaining chip (a likely unconstitutional offer that may have jeopardized the extradition), the DOJ has distanced itself from the White House's trade negotiations.
  • There's a much more mundane explanation for the timing: Among U.S. allies, Canada is one of the toughest to obtain an extradition from, and it takes about this much time to go through the Canadian process, said Chris Ott, a former prosecutor with the DOJ's National Security Division and current partner at Davis Wright Tremaine.

While the administration largely believes a new trade agreement can stop China from skirting trade rules and reverse some of the long-term damage to U.S. interests, the DOJ penalties are more than just a bargaining chip in the trade negotiations.

  • The threat of arrest may be devastating for Huawei and, while it likely won't end suspicions of Chinese companies' participation in government mandated espionage campaigns, it will dramatically raise the business cost of doing so.
  • "It may not be safe for Huawei executives to travel to extradition countries," said Ott. "It's hard to run an international business that way. They can never show up to CES again. They can’t even go to Japan."

Go deeper: Huawei expects to be world's top smartphone maker by year-end

Go deeper

"Atmospheric river" to whiplash Northern California from drought to flood

A map depicting 24-hour preciptation forecast (inches) ending Monday at 5a.m. local time. Photo: NOAA

A series of powerful "atmospheric river" storms are set dump historic amounts of rainfall across parts of drought-stricken California and the Pacific Northwest from this weekend, forecasters warn.

Why it matters: A strong atmospheric river, packing large amounts of moisture, is predicted to whiplash Northern California from drought to flood.

10,000 trees near giant sequoia groves to be removed after fires

A firefighter looks up at a giant sequoia tree after fire burned through the Sequoia National Forest near California Hot Springs, California, on Sept. 23. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

"Upwards of" 10,000 trees near giant sequoia groves have been "weakened by drought, disease, age, and/or fire" and must be removed in the wake of California's wildfires, the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks announced.

Why it matters: The damage to these trees, considered "national treasures," and work to remove them means a nearby key highway must remain closed to visitors as they have "the potential to strike people, cars, other structures, or create barriers to emergency response services," per a statement from the national parks.

Obama stumps for McAuliffe, urges Virginians not "to go back to the chaos"

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Former President Barack Obama framed a Nov. 2 gubernatorial race as a bellwether for the Democratic Party and the country, telling a crowd at a campaign event for Terry McAuliffe on Saturday that "I believe you, right here in Virginia, are going to show the rest of the country and the world that we're not going to indulge in our worst instincts."

Why it matters: With just over a week to go before Election Day in the Commonwealth, McAuliffe is bringing out the big guns. The 44th president appeared on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University to urge supporters to get to the polls.