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Jewish World Review May 26, 1999 /11 Sivan, 5759

Michael Kelly

Michael Kelly
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Will we ever learn? Clintochio is a lying ...

(JWR) ---- (
THE LAWYERS, FLACKS, HACKS and good Democrats who assured us that it didn't really matter that the president was a pathologically dedicated liar -- because, you will recall, he only lied about that which gentlemen should lie about -- might now wish, in light of the Cox Report on Chinese espionage, to revisit their position.

On March 19, in the wake of press reports disclosing an ongoing campaign by the People's Republic of China to steal America's nuclear secrets, the president held a news conference. He carefully characterized China's espionage as occurring "in the mid-'80s, not in the 1990s" -- not, in other words, during the years in which China was funneling cash into Clinton's campaign coffers and Clinton was hailing China as America's "strategic partner."

ABC's Sam Donaldson asked the obvious question: "Can you assure the American people that, under your watch, no valuable nuclear secrets were lost?" Clinton was unequivocal in his answer.

"You asked me [a] question, which is: Can I tell you that there has been no espionage at the labs since I have been president?" Clinton said. "I can tell you that no one has reported to me that they suspect such a thing has occurred."

Later another reporter returned to the subject. This time, Clinton prefaced his denial with a bit of his patented weasel talk: "To the best of my knowledge no one has said anything to me about any espionage, which occurred by the Chinese against the labs, during my presidency."

At this time, Clinton had already been briefed by his national security adviser, Samuel R. Berger, about Department of Energy and FBI investigations into ongoing Chinese espionage at the laboratories. The Cox Report, released yesterday, states that Berger informed the committee that he had briefed Clinton "about the theft of U.S. nuclear information in early 1998." A last-minute footnote reports that Berger changed his story in recent weeks, and "advised the Select Committee that the president was briefed in July 1997, although no written record of this meeting exists."

What is more, Clinton had received, in January 1999, a written executive summary of the classified version of the Cox Report, prepared by the president's national security staff. Again, such a summary surely included the report's conclusion, as written in the declassified version, that "the People's Republic of China has stolen classified information on all of the United States' most advanced thermonuclear warheads, and several of the associated re-entry vehicles [in] an intelligence collection program spanning two decades, and continuing to the present. The PRC intelligence program included espionage . . . and extensive interactions with scientists from the . . . national weapons laboratories."

Indeed, any competent summary must have gone into some detail on the subject of continuing Chinese espionage in the Clinton years. In the declassified version, the Cox Report states that "in the mid-1990s, the PRC stole from a U.S. national weapons laboratory classified U.S. thermonuclear weapons information"; that "significant secrets are known to have been stolen as recently as the mid-1990s"; that Lawrence Livermore scientist Peter Lee had in 1997 passed to Chinese weapons scientists classified research on submarine detection; that intelligence agencies had reported in 1996 the Chinese theft of neutron bomb technology from a U.S. lab.

So, on the day before the release of the declassified Cox Report, White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart faced a press corps that wanted to know why the president, on March 19, had asserted that no one had reported to him, ever, even suspicions of "espionage at the labs since I have been president." Clearly incredulous reporters spent 57 questions trying to worm the truth out of Lockhart. The president's man evaded, obfuscated and retreated on occasion into outright misstatements of fact.

Asked about the case of Peter Lee, Lockhart pretended that Clinton had been speaking in his March 19 statements only to the issue of nuclear espionage at the labs, not espionage in general. (Cute, huh?) Asked about Clinton's briefing by Berger, and about the January summary of the Cox Report, Lockhart again hid behind the pathetic claim that Clinton's March 19 statements had been "accurate" because Clinton had been asserting ignorance of specific acts of espionage, not of a general knowledge that espionage might have occurred on his watch.

On March 19, President Clinton lied, not about private acts -- not about sexually exploiting or harassing or assaulting this or that unfortunate woman -- but about the gravest issue of national security imaginable. Congress should force Berger to testify as to what precisely he told Clinton, and when. Congress should also subpoena the written summary of the Cox Report Clinton received in January.

Congress should not let this lie pass.

Michael Kelly is the editor of National Journal. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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