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Reno offers no apology for Wen Ho Lee case
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Attorney General Janet Reno said she felt the government "made the best decision" it could "based on the evidence and the law" in the case of fired nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee and that she felt "very comfortable about that."
When asked Thursday if the former Los Alamos scientist deserved an apology, she said that Lee was given an opportunity from the onset to resolve the problem and "he chose not to."
Lee, 60, who was accused of downloading what prosecutors called the "crown jewels" of U.S. nuclear defense secrets onto 10 tapes he took from the Los Alamos Nuclear laboratory, pleaded guilty Wednesday to one count of mishandling nuclear defense data and agreed to tell the government what he had done with several missing tapes.
U.S. District Judge James Parker accepted a plea bargain that called for Lee to be sentenced to the nine months he has already served while awaiting trial. The judge told Lee that he "deserved to be punished" but that he had been "punished harshly." Parker went on to criticize federal prosecutors and investigators for holding Lee in solitary confinement, saying their actions had "caused embarrassment."
Reno said in her daily briefing that she was "not embarrassed."
"I regret deeply that Judge Parker feels that way, but I know what I've had to do based on the evidence and the law. I know what I've had to do to address the national security issues," Reno said.
Reno said Lee had downloaded "very sensitive" information concerning nuclear secrets. "He had not done that just accidentally or in a flash of a three minute period. He had done it over time, taking some 40 hours to do it. He had made it available on an unsecured computer subject to hackers and the like. He had, based on the information we had, done this carefully, deliberately, willfully. He had no need for it in his work."
She said Lee had been asked a series of questions and offered an opportunity to explain his actions: "Did you do anything with the information that you downloaded? Did you give it to anybody? What has been done with it? If you destroyed the tapes, how did you destroy the tapes?"
She said he failed to respond to those questions.
In addition to the 278 days Lee served in solitary confinement, he loses his citizenship rights -- such as the right to vote and own a gun because he pleaded guilty to a felony. He also must pay a $100 special penalty assessment required by law.
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