U.S. Department of Justice
Attorney General Janet Reno's Weekly News Briefing
September 14, 2000
QUESTION: Ms. Reno, was Dr. Wen Ho Lee treated fairly, both during the investigation and the prosecution which led to this week's events?
RENO: I think on all the circumstances we tried to look at it very carefully. We went over the evidence, we looked at the law, we made the best decision we could based on the evidence and the law, and I feel very comfortable about that.
QUESTION: Ms. Reno, I'm going to pose a similar question, but actually in Judge Parker's words, because he asked the question I think that deserves to be answered, what I believe remains unanswered, is the question "What was the government's motive in insisting on your being jailed pre-trial under extraordinary onerous conditions of confinement until today when the executive branch agrees that you may be set free essentially unrestricted? That makes no sense to me," close quote.
I wonder if you could respond to the judge's question.
RENO: We had tried from the beginning to make sure that if he had something to say, if he could explain what he had done with the tapes, if he could tell us if had conveyed any information from the tapes, or who might have access to the computer, the unsecured computer, and would do that, subject to us being able to confirm his statements, that we would reconsider detention and that we would consider charging decisions.
We tried very hard. And in this instance, we now have what we sought then.
QUESTION: Ms. Reno, the judge apologize repeatedly in court to Mr. Lee. Do you think he deserves an apology from the Justice Department?
RENO: I think we have tried to do everything we could to address the issue based on the evidence and the law and the concern for national security. The judge recognized that Mr. Lee -- that Dr. Lee had violated the criminal law, had taken -- I mean, in this instance, evidence was taken off a secured computer, downloaded, put into an unsecured computer, which people could have access to. And there was no explanation for what the man did with the information that was so sensitive and subject to so many concerns.
And I think in that situation, you have to look at the consequences of doing that.
QUESTION: But in the end, though, I mean, as the judge said, do you feel like he's entitled to an apology, after all is said and done?
RENO: I think Dr. Lee had the opportunity from the beginning to resolve this matter, and he chose not to. And I think he must look to himself.
QUESTION: Ms. Reno, you say that an apology is out of the question here. But what regrets, if any, do you have about this case? And secondly, would you support any disciplinary action against the FBI agent who provided false testimony in the case?
RENO: I'm not aware, based on Judge Parker's comments, that there was any conclusion that testimony was false, in the terms of the law. With respect to issues of whether apologies are out of the question or what, who, what should have been done differently, I with all my heart and soul wish that Dr. Lee had come forward, said, "This is what I did with the information, this is what I did with the tapes. I made copies, I didn't make copies. And here, I'll sit down with you, and we'll work it out and I'll try to give you as much information as possible to permit you to confirm and corroborate it."
QUESTION: Directly that you could have...
RENO: What a minute, you all are getting too stereophonic.
QUESTION: Do we understand correctly that the plea bargain that was reached yesterday could in fact have been reached before Dr. Lee spent eight or nine months in confinement, that his attorneys were basically offering this deal last winter and the government turned it down? Is that your understanding?
RENO: No, my understanding is that the attorneys offered to make information available. And then, we were not able to carry through with it and did not have access to it. And in January, we were writing them again saying, if you will answer these questions and give us an opportunity to corroborate it, we will reconsider the pre-detention, the detention issues.
Again, you had significant information that related to this nation's national security. We went over the evidence carefully. The judge has his role as a trier and determiner of fact. We have our responsibilities, both to make sure that we feel like we have evidence sufficient under the law to charge, and then we do everything we can to protect the national security; i.e., to find out what happened to the information.
QUESTION: Ms. Reno...
QUESTION: ... their offer early on to do this. What was wrong with their offer to sit down?
RENO: I don't think there was ever the ultimate follow through, in terms of what we asked for and the subsequent letter that we wrote. We gave very specific questions that needed to be answered and, essentially, laid out what we now have.
QUESTION: I just wanted to go back to Wen Ho Lee for a moment. Is there any internal review underway about the department's conduct or the FBI's conduct, specifically the early questioning of him when he was questioned without an attorney present, and he, according to his lawyer, was threatened with electrocution if he didn't answer the questions. It seems to hark back to the days of Richard Jewell in the investigation of the -- the question wasn't handled properly.
RENO: I will review it and see if there is any basis for it.
QUESTION: Judge Parker in his comments yesterday said, and I quote, "I feel I was led astray last December by the executive branch of the government through the Department of Justice, through the FBI, and through the U.S. attorney for New Mexico." And then he went on to say that he was embarrassed for the whole country.
Are you, Ms. Reno, going to be able to respond to the judge's feeling he was led astray?
RENO: I feel great respect for Judge Parker. And I regret that he feels that way. I want to make sure that everybody understands we didn't try to lead anybody astray. We tried to do it based on the evidence and the law and our desire to protect national security.
Judge Parker, as the judiciary branch, has another role, and that is to make a determination based on the information before him.
We need to look at all of those issues. But we also have the responsibility to protect the national security, and we're going to try to do that, again, based on the evidence and the law. These are very difficult issues, and we need to work through them with a respect for each branch of government.
QUESTION: Are you quite sure that Mr. Wen Ho Lee going free is not going to be a security risk, that he is going to come forth, as he has promised?
RENO: I have decided that this is the best way I can find to try to get to the truth as to what happened to the tapes and the information.
QUESTION: Are there any indications that he's coming forth with that information?
RENO: I think we have already been able to obtain some information that was not previously available, and we're going to continue to try to pursue it, as we had tried early on, to make sure that we understand exactly what happened.
QUESTION: To follow on this same question about the embarrassment, the judge said that the top decision-makers in the executive branch, especially the Department of Justice -- and at one point he actually mentions you by name -- have embarrassed our entire nation and each of us who is a citizen in it. Would you respond to that?
RENO: As I said, 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 and to address information that is of real concern to this nation and what we tried to do up front. I'm not embarrassed.
I will say that the issues before us are not easy issues, and it is one that I take to be one of my great responsibilities, to try to do it the right way; to try to determine how to charge, consistent with our constitutional principles; how to protect our national security; how to address constitutional issues of detention -- are all very difficult.
And I just trust that all the branches of government understand the role that each has to play.
QUESTION: Will you concede any missteps by the government, either from the U.S. attorney's office out there, from the FBI, from the Justice Department?
RENO: I would like to look at everything, and if there are missteps, then review them and consider them.
QUESTION: ... suggested that congressional pressure somehow influenced the department's decision to pursue the case?
RENO: I had been criticized by Congress on many occasions for not doing things. In this instance, people talked about congressional pressure, and I said, "This is one thing that is not going to sway me. I'm going to do it if I have evidence sufficient to charge, and I'm going to do it based on what I understand the law, as applied to these facts, will permit us to do. And if I can't charge, then I'm prepared to go back up to Congress and sit there and answer questions as to why I didn't charge." And I am equally prepared to go to Congress and answer questions as to why I did.
QUESTION: Ms. Reno, as you look back at the case in terms of, not evidence that he gave the information to anyone from the onset, and the fact that he initially still faced, in the 59-count indictment, charges that could have put him in jail for life, was there a disconnect between the level of what the government brought and what the government knew at the time that it decided to prosecute?
RENO: What the government knew was that he had intentionally downloaded very sensitive classified information concerning our nation's 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. He had no obvious need for it in this unsecure setting. There was no explanation for why somebody, who knew the sensitivity of this information, would remove it from a secure computer and make it accessible to intruders, hackers or other governments who could hack into that computer.
We offered him the opportunity to provide an explanation, not just yes or no or I destroyed it, but did you do anything with the information that you downloaded? Did you give it go anybody? What has been done with it? How did -- if you destroyed the tapes, how did you destroy the tapes? And we want time to be able to corroborate the information you provide us. He didn't do that.
The conclusion then was that he had willfully downloaded the computer, put the information out in an unsecure setting, retained it, without explanation. And we felt that there was evidence sufficient to charge.
Now, people may disagree with us, but this is what we tried to do.
And here you have extensive information, concerning the nation's nuclear secrets, out there available. What happened to it? That was what we needed to know.
QUESTION: Do you have any idea what, in fact, his motive may have been to do the downloading?
RENO: No, I don't.
QUESTION: Ms. Reno, all that started with the supposed loss of the W-88 information. I know you all began to reinvestigate that last year. Have you all come to any conclusion? Or can you give us any input as to whether you think someone actually did get information about the W- 88?
RENO: First of all, you say all of this started; that is an entirely separate issue from the issue before Judge Parker yesterday. Let me clarify that. And that matter is still pending, so I cannot comment on it.
QUESTION: The task force, I understand though, is still looking into the matter. Is that correct and if...
RENO: I cannot comment on it.
QUESTION: Is it in the best interest of Justice that the United States government, in this case with Wen Ho Lee, that he now should be protected? And conversely, that he should be discouraged from flight?
RENO: I think it's in the best of interest of everybody that we sit down, get the information that he has, follow up on it, corroborate it, and take appropriate action.
QUESTION: What do you think of all of the allegations that the government somehow had a racial bias in going after Dr. Lee?
RENO: I can be very clear to you that there was no racial bias in anything that we did with respect to Dr. Lee, in terms of my decision-making and in terms of what I was concerned about.
QUESTION: Ms. Reno, I'm curious, you said that one thing that you will need to know, that you want to know, is what happened to those tapes. How do you plan to prove the negative? I mean, he says he destroyed them.
RENO: I can't comment on the evidence that we have. And so, it would not be appropriate for me to comment while we are preparing for the briefing.