Lott raises ethnicity in Wen Ho Lee case
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott suggested Sunday that ethnicity played a role in the Justice Department's treatment of Wen Ho Lee, the fired Los Alamos nuclear scientist who spent nine months in jail before being released last Wednesday in a plea bargain.
Lott, appearing on CBS' "Face The Nation," compared Lee's treatment to that of former CIA director John Deutch, who is under investigation by the Defense Department for allegedly mishandling classified information.
"There is a real dichotomy here, the way he was treated and the way John Deutch has been treated," Lott said. "Wen Ho Lee was put in house arrest, then he was put in jail, and now he has a plea bargain. But when you look at what happened, downloading of classified nuclear secrets, John Deutch, at the Department of Defense and the CIA, apparently did the same thing. What is the difference? One is a buddy of the White House and the other one is an Asian-American. It's unsettling."
Many of Lee's supporters have also pointed to Lee's Asian background, saying it was a factor in the Justice Department's decision to pursue the case, a charge rejected by officials.
Federal authorities had originally launched an investigation into Lee for allegedly providing nuclear secrets to China, but he was never charged with espionage. Instead, authorities charged him with downloading classified information to an unsecured computer and duplicating tapes containing sensitive nuclear weapons information. While he originally faced 59 counts, he pleaded guilty to one charge.
President Clinton described himself as "troubled" by the case, and the White House announced Friday that it would launch a review of the government's handling of it. Attorney General Janet Reno defended her department's handling of the case as fair.
Lott said the Lee case demonstrated that the country's "nuclear secrets are not safe."
As the Lee matter unfolded, many Republicans on Capitol Hill, including Lott, had repeatedly said it represented a serious security breach.
Asked if he regretted anything he said about the case as it unfolded, Lott replied, "No, I don't."