In those first few months, friends say, Chen took the advice of Cohen and others by turning down a number of appearances in Washington that could have suggested a partisan affiliation, including an event sponsored by the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice, named for former Democratic representative Tom Lantos, who died in 2008.
Smith, who did not respond to interview requests, has sought to portray the interference by NYU as more aggressive. In one instance last January, Smith told Reuters that his effort to meet alone with Chen in his Washington office was interrupted by a translator he presumes was employed by NYU and who barged in and led Chen away.
One of Chen’s supporters has been Mark Corallo, a Republican public relations consultant who was a spokesman for former US attorney general John Ashcroft. Corallo, who handled Chen’s public accusations against NYU, waved off accusations that his role in helping Chen risked tainting the rights advocate’s nonpartisan bona fides.
“This is a courageous man who has been the victim of oppression and, frankly, I think it’s incumbent upon every American to assist someone like him,” he said.
Mattie Bekink, an NYU consultant who spent several months as Chen’s translator and adviser, disputed the accusations that NYU was pressured into abandoning him. She also rejected the notion that the university sought to control him or limit his advocacy work.
“Mr Chen was freely able to communicate and associate with whomever he chose,” she said.
In recent weeks, as he traveled through Taiwan, Chen has parried questions from reporters who have asked him to elaborate on his accusations against NYU and whether he was worried the controversy might diminish his influence as an advocate for human rights in China. Fu, who said he continued to speak to him almost daily, said Chen was actively planning his next move after he vacates his NYU apartment in the coming weeks.
In an interview, Fu recounted a conversation the two had after Chen met a Witherspoon Institute founder, Robert George, a conservative Christian thinker.
Chen, he recalled, said he was unbothered by the group’s attacks on abortion and same-sex parenting. “He told me, ‘Don’t call them conservative. They are principled. And if they are willing to support the struggle for freedom, then that’s good enough for me.’”