The Washington Free Beacon has fired one of its top reporters after discovering a “financial transaction” the reporter had with someone he covered, the site announced on Friday. The reporter, Bill Gertz, was recently accused of having worked on behalf of a Chinese billionaire who has been at the center of a recent high-profile legal dispute.
On Friday, the Free Beacon’s leadership published a note saying that the site “recently learned that senior editor Bill Gertz entered into a previously undisclosed financial transaction with an individual or an affiliate of that individual whom Mr. Gertz had covered in some of his reporting.” Gertz was asked to resign, according to the note, and did so.
This note has been attached to stories Gertz wrote about Guo Wengui, about whom he has regularly written over the last few years. The Free Beacon attached the note to stories Gertz wrote about Guo beginning in 2018. The note does not appear to be attached to Gertz’s stories that do not have to do with Guo. Also known as Miles Kwok, Guo is a Chinese real estate tycoon who has been involved in a Byzantine legal battle with a conservative firm he once hired to do research on people connected to the Chinese Communist Party, then sued for not delivering on their contract. The firm has in turn accused Guo’s team of seeding malware on its devices and of being not truly a dissident but a spy for Beijing (Guo later sued the Wall Street Journal and other news organizations for alleged defamation). Guo lives in New York and has been a vocal critic of the Chinese government, and has applied for asylum in the US.
Gertz is mentioned several times in court documents connected to the case. The firm being sued by Guo, Strategic Vision, alleged in a counterclaim in July that after being cultivated by Guo, who has formed close relationships with American China hawks like former Breitbart News chair and White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, “Gertz and another Guo intermediary approached Strategic Vision in late 2017 to perform research and analytics on numerous Chinese nationals who were allegedly linked to top Party officials.”
In a response to Strategic Vision’s counterclaim, Guo’s company Eastern Profit acknowledged that Gertz had been one of the people who introduced it to Strategic Vision.
"Mr. Guo is shocked about the news regarding Mr. Gertz because Mr Guo has never had any financial transaction nor has an affiliate of Mr. Guo's" with Gertz, a lawyer for Guo said on Saturday.
In a New York Times story last year, Bannon mentioned Gertz in the context of his meeting Guo after leaving the White House: “Mr. Bannon says he received a call from Bill Gertz, a Washington journalist who has long been critical of China. Mr. Gertz told him that Mr. Guo was scheduled to give a talk in Washington at the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank.”
A lawyer for Strategic Vision filed a subpoena for Gertz on July 26, asking him to produce documents related to his connection to Guo. The law firm Covington and Burling represented the Washington Free Beacon and Gertz in the case and objected to the subpoena, arguing that Gertz’s journalistic work would be infringed upon, according to a letter to the court filed by Strategic Vision’s lawyers. Strategic Vision’s lawyers argued that Gertz’s involvement with Guo was not journalistic in nature. The firm cited a deposition Guo gave in which he declined to answer if he had paid Gertz or given him anything of value. The company also wrote that it believed Gertz was on the board of the Rule of Law Society, an organization founded by Guo and Bannon.
The Rule of Law Society’s registration form, submitted earlier this year in New York, lists Gertz as a director of the organization. According to a person familiar with the situation who spoke on condition of anonymity, Gertz informed the Free Beacon that he was taking an unpaid director role with the group.
It is not clear exactly what the financial transaction was that took place involving Gertz that the Free Beacon discovered.
Gertz declined to comment on the Free Beacon’s statement, saying, “We had a disagreement on an editorial matter and I am moving on. I wish the Free Beacon well."
The Free Beacon’s editor-in-chief and chair declined to comment beyond the statement published on their website.
A lawyer for Eastern Profit Corporation did not immediately respond to a request for comment, nor did a lawyer for Strategic Vision.