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Reno: President justified in questioning handling of Lee case

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- - Attorney General Janet Reno Friday shrugged off President Clinton's criticism of the Justice Department's handling of the case against former Los Alamos scientist Wen Ho Lee.

"Anybody who looks at this case and doesn't know the circumstances of it is going to say 'why?', and I think that's what the president kind of naturally asked," Reno said.

President Clinton has ordered Chief of Staff John Podesta to lead a review of the investigation and prosecution of Lee.

Reno was meeting with the president Friday about the matter.

"He, like everybody else, said, 'How do you go from here to here, and why did it happen," Reno said.

"My position is that we review and review and review to try to see if there's anything we would do differently, try to learn from it. What I want to try to do is make sure that things are as open as possible."

Reno acknowledged Lee has yet to be debriefed by Justice Department officials. He is scheduled to be questioned under oath beginning Tuesday as part of a tell-all plea bargain. She defended the decision to keep Lee in solitary confinement some 23 hours a day.

"What happened to the tapes? If he destroyed them,did he tell anybody? Did he have other copies? Where was the information?", she asked. "If it had been relayed to someone, who had it been relayed to? If the tapes were still in existence, where were they, who might be able to pick them up and dispose of them? We felt that we had to limit his communication with people that might impair our ability to locate the tapes."

Lee spent nine months in jail on 59 felony counts accusing him of mishandling nuclear secrets. Under his plea agreement, Lee pled guilty to one count of mishandling the information.

Reno's planned exchange with the White House comes as officials privately acknowledge Lee had made copies of some of the 10 tapes he made from downloading sensitive nuclear weapons data from classified computers at Los Alamos.

Sources familiar with the investigation said prosecutors learned of the copies shortly before the plea bargain was reached.


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Friday, September 22, 2000


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