Reno Defends Govt. Treatment of Wen Ho Lee

By Susan Jones | July 7, 2008 | 8:19 PM EDT

( - Does former Los Alamos scientist Wen Ho Lee deserve an apology from the Justice Department, Attorney General Janet Reno was asked Thursday.

She didn't answer the question, saying only "I think we have tried to do everything we could based on the evidence of the law and the concern for national security."

Reno told reporters at her weekly briefing, "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."

Reno said the Justice Department has "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 he had conveyed any information from the tapes or who might have access to the unsecured computer - if he would do that, subject to us being able to confirm his statements - that we would reconsider detention and that we consider charging decisions. We tried very hard," said Reno.

Wen Ho Lee, fired from Los Alamos amid allegations that he was spying for the Chinese, returned home Wednesday after nine months in prison.

U.S. District Judge James Parker, who approved the plea bargain that freed Lee, apologized to the scientist in court. Speaking as a member of the judicial branch of government, the judge told Lee, "I sincerely apologize to you ... for the unfair manner you were held in custody."

The judge then blasted the government for "embarrassing our entire nation and each of us who is a citizen of it" by treating Lee so harshly - without enough evidence to support its case against him.

The judge said the prosecution misled him last November, and that's why he ordered Lee held in solitary confinement: "Dr. Lee, I tell you with great sadness that I feel I was led astray last Decemer by the executive branch of our government."

Judge Parker said the unanswered question is the government's motive in insisting that Lee be held under "onerous and demeaning conditions."

As part of the plea bargain, Lee admitted to one felony count of downloading nuclear secrets to a non-secure computer. He also signed a sworn statement that he never intended to harm the United States. The government dropped dozens of other charges against him.

Said the judge, "In my opinion you have been punished harshly, both by the conditions of pretrial detention and the fact that you have lost rights as a citizen."