Reno: Don't Blame Me

In the wake of the Cox Report on the China spy scandal, Attorney General Janet Reno blames her aides for the Justice Department's failure to stop the theft of nuclear secrets.

Reno has been the subject of criticism since the summary was released reports CBS News Correspondent Stephanie Lambidakis. Thursday she said subordinates kept her in the dark and never told her about a debate over whether to wiretap a government scientist suspected of spying.

Saying she takes the national security of the country "very seriously," Reno told reporters she has no plans to resign and does not feel that she's being made a scapegoat. She added that White House counsel Charles Ruff told her that President Clinton still has confidence in her.

The Cox Report:
China, the US, and Nuclear Secrets
> View the espionage timeline
> Read the Overview of the Cox Report

She said that Justice Department and FBI subordinates should have come to her two years ago when they disagreed over whether to wiretap Wen Ho Lee, a nuclear weapons scientist suspected of spying for China. Lee was fired but has not been charged.

"Where there is something serious where (FBI Director) Louis Freeh disagrees with the findings (of Justice officials) it should be discussed at my level," Reno said at her weekly news conference. "I assumed since I did not hear again from the FBI that it was resolved to their satisfaction."

Under the law, there must be probable cause to believe that a U.S. citizen knowingly engaged in espionage for a foreign country before a wiretap warrant can be issued. "Based on the facts, the evidence was insufficient," Reno said.

A senior FBI official has said the bureau itself doubted it had sufficient evidence for a warrant.

Reno has named a senior career prosecutor to examine the entire Lee case, going back to 1982, to see if any mistakes were made that can be correctd.


AP
Rep. Christopher Cox, R-Calif., right, and Rep. Norman Dicks, D-Wash., testify in the House.

In a related development, Congress is moved quickly on legislation to beef up security at nuclear weapons labs and to impose new restrictions on technology exports in the aftermath of The Cox Report.

At the same time House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill. and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., urged that the evidence of spying by China should not stand in the way of continued cooperation with Beijing on trade, weapons nonproliferation and other issues of mutual interest. "I don't think we should rush to judgment," Lott said. "We should understand the full ramifications of what happened here."

China has all along denied conducting any espionage against the United States. Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhu Bangzao said in Beijing that the allegations were cooked up by people who want to slander China and declared that "their despicable attempt is doomed to failure."

The key author of the report on Chinese nuclear espionage, Rep. Christopher Cox, R-Calif., told the House International Relations subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific Wednesday that he's sure the Chinese managed to get top secret plans to at least seven of America's nuclear warheads. CBS News Correspondent Eric Engberg reports.

The Cox Report concluded there has been extensive theft of nuclear secrets from U.S. weapons labs by China over 20 years, but said China also has obtained valuable U.S. military information and technology from commercial purchases of high-powered computers and civilian satellite launching technology.