In March, a Global News expose cited anonymous security sources that claimed Dong "secretly advised" a Chinese diplomat in February 2021 that releasing Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor would benefit the Conservatives. The Toronto MP resigned from the caucus to contest the allegations and clear his name of wrongdoing.
'Special rapporteur' David Johnston released his report on foreign interference Wednesday, concluding the high-profile allegation made against Dong was "false." However, he acknowledged that Dong had "close relationships" with Chinese diplomats during the 2021 federal election.
Johnston also admitted that while Dong discussed Kovrig and Spavor's case with diplomat Han Tao, "he did not suggest to the official that [China] extend their detention."
The report said the prime minister and Liberal ministers openly defended the MP when the allegations emerged. They believed he was "badly harmed by the reporting."
In February, Trudeau defended Dong against the allegations, implying that questions from reporters on the matter were 'racist.' "One of the things we've seen, unfortunately, over the past years is a rise in anti-Asian racism linked to the pandemic and concerns being raised or arisen around people's loyalties," he said.
"They did not believe the media reports when they came out, as they found Mr. Dong to be a loyal and helpful member of [the] caucus," wrote Johnston. "They received no recommendations about this allegation, as it is false."
Though the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) warned the Prime Minister's Office about Dong, who allegedly received support from the Chinese consulate in Toronto during his election bid, Trudeau did not waver in his support for the MP.
"In a free democracy, it is not up to unelected security officials to dictate to political parties who can or cannot run," he told reporters.
Johnston acknowledged that common interference tactics included 'disinformation' campaigns and the "abuse of human relationships" but clarified that "individual pieces of intelligence must be viewed with skepticism."
He articulated that several leaked materials were "misconstrued" without the "benefit of the full context," adding, "Foreign interference is not usually embodied in discrete one-off pieces of intelligence."
A Global News spokesperson defended the story, saying the outlet "spent months" investigating and preparing stories about alleged Chinese interference in Canadian elections. They "made painstaking efforts to verify the information prepared by senior intelligence officials, many of whom have spent decades investigating security threats to Canada."
"Our sources risked their careers and livelihoods to warn Canadians about the extent to which the People's Republic of China was interfering in Canada's democratic processes and government institutions," wrote the spokesperson.
"We believe in the integrity of our journalism in all the reporting in this series and its critical role in seeking accountability and transparency on issues vital to the public interest."
Dong filed a $15 million defamation lawsuit against Global after resigning from the caucus over the allegations.
"The allegations against me are as false as those against you," he told reporters when addressing the two Michaels. "To my family and parents who brought us here to Canada...the truth will protect us."
Trudeau told reporters Wednesday he looked forward to speaking with Dong about whether he wants to return to caucus. "It's his choice, but I look forward to that conversation," he said.
"I absolutely want to get back to caucus," Dong told the CBC.
According to the House of Commons website, nearly a dozen MPs left caucus to sit as Independent MPs during Trudeau's reign as Liberal leader. All have yet to return to caucus.
However, Johnston did find "irregularities with Mr. Dong's nomination in 2019" after reviewing intelligence and conducting interviews with top officials. "There is a well-grounded suspicion that the irregularities were tied to the PRC Consulate in Toronto, with whom Mr. Dong maintains relationships," reads the report.
Global alleged Dong was one of 11 candidates from Toronto ridings that Beijing supported during the 2019 election, reportedly giving $250,000 to the candidates.
Johnston said it "appears from limited intelligence" that the Chinese government planned to send money through proxies to seven Liberal and four Conservative candidates in the federal election.
"There is uncertainty about whether there was money, if it went to staff or the provincial MPP, and there is no intelligence suggesting any federal candidates received these funds," he wrote.
Despite CSIS surveilling Dong as early as June 2019, months before his election to Parliament, the 'special rapporteur' said Trudeau found no basis "to remove Dong as a candidate." Johnston didn't find any evidence the MP knew about China's potential involvement in his nomination.
His report concludes the prime minister's decision "was not an unreasonable conclusion based on the intelligence available to the prime minister at the time."
"I feel vindicated by Johnston's report," said Dong.