Agent-of-Influence (def.): a well-placed, trusted contact who actively and consciously serves a foreign interest or foreign intelligence services on some matters while retaining his integrity on others.
On August, 19, 2011, during the heat of the Obama Administration’s trade negotiations with China, Vice President Joe Biden huddled with his top trade advisors at the St. Regis Hotel in Beijing, China. One seat away from Mr. Biden sat Robert Roche.
Mr. Roche is a mysterious figure, an American expatriate and Obama bundler living in Shanghai, China. Mr. Roche’s company, Acorn International, is publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange and is in partnership with Hu Jintao’s government.
The importance of this partnership was exemplified at the 2011 State Dinner for Chinese President Hu Jintao (above), where something rare and virtually unprecedented in American politics occurred.
Three living presidents–Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter–all attended the event and were seated at the head table. Also seated at the power table were Sen. John Kerry and his billionaire wife, Theresa Heinz Kerry; General Electric chief Jeffrey Immelt; Coca Cola Chairman and CEO Muhtar Kent; and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Joining them was Robert Roche–a man whose inconsequential infomercial business hawks everything from cell phones, to exercise equipment, to breast enhancement products.
Telegraphing his influence, Mr. Roche received the most coveted honor of all, a seat just one seat away from President Obama. Left in the cheap seats were former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and numerous other titans of politics, finance, and business with billions of dollars in assets in China, including JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon, CEO of Disney Robert Iger, and Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein.
How does a person like Roche–of such little consequence–rate a seat at the power table of the decade? Simple: it was to give Mr. Roche “face” in front of Chinese senior officials–the most valuable currency in Asia.
Since 2009, the name Robert Roche has appeared in the White House Visitor Logs 19 times, despite the fact that Mr. Roche does not reside in Georgetown but in Shanghai, some 10,000 miles away. Those visits include a December 21, 2009, private meeting with President Obama in the Oval Office; two meetings with then-Chief of Staff William Daley; a meeting with Deputy Chief of Staff Kristen J Sheehey in the West Wing; and a West Wing meeting with Assistant to the President Pete Rouse.
In September 2010, Mr. Obama rewarded Mr. Roche by appointing him to the prestigious Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiations, a committee the White House says is “tasked with providing policy advice on trade matters.” This advisory committee provides essential input at a time when America faces contentious trade negotiations with its biggest trading partner, China.
The Government Accountability Institute (GAI) has revealed that Mr. Roche, not the Obama campaign, owns Obama.com–a strange redirect website that sends visitors directly to a donation page where donors may make online contributions without entering a credit card security code. Donors then receive follow-up email solicitations for additional contributions regardless of whether they are U.S. citizens or foreign nationals–a direct violation of U.S. election law. Sixty-eight percent of the traffic flowing to Obama.com is foreign.
The prospectus of Mr. Roche’s company makes it clear that Acorn International operates “under a legal regime consisting of the State Council, which is the highest authority of the executive branch of the PRC [People’s Republic of China] central government, and several ministries and agencies under its authority.” Furthermore, Mr. Roche’s company says it relies on media access and “preferential tax benefits” from the Chinese government and that “loss of these preferential tax treatments and subsidies could have material and adverse effects on our results of operations and financial conditions.”
Additionally, the Acorn International’s own SEC filings state that Mr. Roche’s company opened up a new line of business in “third party bank channels.” From the GAI report:
Acorn has ties with “four established domestic [state-controlled] banks through which we directly market products through specialized catalogues to credit card holders at these banks. As of March 31, 2009 we have established relationships with 13 domestic banks.” This allowed Acorn to gain revenue through credit card transactions with Chinese banks. Between 2007 and 2010, the revenue stream from that line of business grew 180%…Acorn’s prospectus states that “since commencing [its] operations in 1998, [the company has] formed close and strong relationships with various CCTV and national satellite channels….”
That is significant, because Mr. Roche, an American citizen, is an executive in a Chinese company comprised almost entirely of Chinese citizens whose underlying core assets are owned by the Chinese government–which also has de facto operating control.
Given the Chinese regime’s control over the operations of Chinese businesses, this information raises alarming questions. Former Financial Times Beijing bureau chief and author Richard McGregor explains that for state-owned enterprises, Communist Party meetings are held before corporate board meetings and Party officials make management decisions. As McGregor writes, Party “control over personnel appointments has been inviolate.”
Put simply, the success of Robert Roche’s Chinese company is, by its own admission, contingent on remaining in the good graces of Chinese President Hu Jintao, the regime in Beijing, and the People’s Liberation Army. And in late September 2011, Mr. Roche traveled to Capitol Hill to thwart U.S. efforts to pressure China to increase the value of its currency, the renminbi.
Then, in October, the China Daily, a Pravda-like media outlet controlled by the Communist government, quoted Mr. Roche as saying this: “People who are sponsoring the renminbi issue clearly have an agenda and a political point of view, because politically it is good for America to find a bad guy to blame for its high unemployment rate, and they found China.”
Mr. Obama has since come under fire for his Administration’s inability to jawbone China into significantly raising the value of its currency. The renminbi’s value during Mr. Obama’s first term has only increased 8.5%, versus the 21% it rose from 2005-2008 under President George W. Bush. This issue stands at the very heart of America’s trade imbalances with China.
Breitbart News shared the above information with numerous former CIA, FBI, and Department of Defense officials and asked them what to make of Robert Roche’s activities and high-level access. One former senior CIA official said “the Roche situation fits the classic ‘agent-of-influence’ tactic the Chinese government often deploys.”
A former senior FBI counter-intelligence agent directly involved in thwarting Chinese espionage through illegal campaign donations of American officials in the 1990’s, including the Katrina Leung case, said: “Roche fits the classic profile of someone the Chinese use as ‘agents-of-influence.’ They set these guys up in business in China and then let them use their access to gain influence and recognition.”
In addition, other intelligence officials and former CIA agents involved in intelligence gathering activities and currently assisting US companies and financial institutions in vetting business opportunities in China indicate that Roche’s management team and initial board of directors have the “light footprints” typical of companies operating with the direct involvement of the Chinese government and People’s Liberation Army.
Breitbart News has learned that a major television network tried to track Robert Roche down with no luck. Newsweek contacted Mr. Roche by email but he declined comment. On Sunday, the New York Post reports that efforts to reach Mr. Roche for comment had been unsuccessful. “Roche’s mother in Chicago referred calls to the Obama campaign,” wrote the Post‘s Isabel Vincent and Melissa Klein. “The campaign declined to comment.”
But Americans deserve to know immediately why an infomercial executive with direct business ties to the Chinese regime has gained such influence and proximity to power inside the Obama White House.