Former State Dept. official pleads guilty to taking gifts from China

A former State Department employee pleaded guilty Wednesday to trading sensitive information with Chinese intelligence officers in exchange for lavish gifts.

At a hearing in DC federal court, Candace Claiborne, who had worked for the State Department in countries across the globe since 1999, spoke softly and wiped her eyes with a tissue as she formally admitted to conspiring to defraud the government.

Claiborne was charged in 2017 with taking gifts including electronics, vacations and a fully-furnished apartment, as well tuition payments to a Chinese fashion school for a family member, from two Chinese officials, and lying about her interactions with them on clearance forms and in interviews with government background investigators.

According to plea documents, Claiborne met with the intelligence officials monthly while on a posting in China and on multiple occasions handed over manila envelopes stuffed with printed cables, white papers and other non-public documents about the movements and discussions of US diplomats.

“Candace Marie Claiborne traded her integrity and non-public information of the United States government in exchange for cash and other gifts from foreign agents she knew worked for the Chinese intelligence service,” said John Demers, the assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, in a statement. “Violations of the public’s trust are an affront to our citizens and to all those who honor their oaths.”

On Wednesday, wearing a purple head covering and with family members watching from the courtroom gallery, Claiborne, 63, told a judge that she wanted to “plead guilty” to the one conspiracy to defraud the government count.

Judge Randolph D. Moss accepted the plea agreement, which attorneys had said was in the works for months.

Claiborne will self-surrender to authorities on June 5, ahead of a sentencing hearing on July 9.

She faces a maximum of five years in prison on the conspiracy charge.