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Clinton: Wen Ho Lee case raises questions about pretrial detention
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- While emphasizing that fired nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee committed a "very serious" violation, President Clinton said Friday the case raises questions about pretrial detention.
The president said the case "raises a question, not just for Chinese-Americans, but for all Americans about whether we have been as careful as we ought to be about pretrial detention."
"In America, we have a pretty high standard, and we should under our Constitution, against pretrial detention. You have to meet a pretty high bar," he said. However, he added: "I had no reason to believe that bar had not been met."
Lee, a former Los Alamos scientist, was accused of downloading U.S. nuclear defense secrets onto 10 tapes he took from the nuclear laboratory. Under a plea agreement, he pleaded guilty Wednesday to one count of mishandling nuclear defense data. He originally faced 59 counts of the same charge. Lee agreed to tell the government what he did with several missing tapes.
Lee served 278 days in solitary confinement before a U.S. District judge accepted his plea bargain. The 60-year-old Taiwan-born U.S. citizen was not charged with espionage.
What happened to the tapes
Clinton said Lee "has admitted to a very serious national security violation and the important thing now is to keep commitment to the government to work hard to figure out what happened to those tapes, what was on the tapes, to reconstitute all the information."
On Thursday, Attorney General Janet Reno said she felt "comfortable" with how the government handled the case, saying the best decision was made "based on the evidence and the law."
Reno said Lee was given an opportunity to explain his actions and he failed to respond to those questions. She said he downloaded "very sensitive" information "over time, taking some 40 hours to do it."
Clinton said his staff has talked to the Justice Department about the case.
"I'm sure I'll have a chance to talk to the attorney general about it," he said. "It would have been completely inappropriate for me to intervene and I don't believe she intervened. This was handled in the appropriate, normal way."
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