Thank God for the Federal Courts
Jude Wanniski
September 20, 2000


To: Anthony Lewis, The New York Times
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Wen Ho Lee and Judge Parker

Excellent column on the Wen Ho Lee case, Tony, “It Did Happen Here.” You may have forgotten, but I did send you some of my commentaries on this case, as I was suspicious from the moment I saw the Jeff Gerth piece about Wen Ho on page one of the Saturday Times last March. I sensed the story about Dr. Lee being a spy for the People’s Republic of China was fed to your newspaper by my old Cold Warrior friends, Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz, on the eve of Zhu Rongji’s visit to the U.S. I discussed the substance of the Times piece with Gordon Prather, an old friend who is a nuclear physicist familiar with weapons development, having worked at Los Alamos decades ago and having served as deputy assistant secretary of the army for technology in the Reagan administration.

When Dr. Prather laughed at the story and its technical inconsistencies, I wrote your top editor, Joe Lelyveld, and warned him the Times was being snookered. It still hasn’t gotten the story quite right and your column had a batch of minor errors of timing, etc. But it is important that you are finally in the ballpark. Prather’s commentary in his new Internet column last week, “Here Come De Judge,” gets all the detail right, of course, and I commend it to you and your colleagues at the Times, as this story is not going to end with Lee’s release. It is a perfect starting point for a whole review of U.S. national security, where our priorities should be, how we should deal with nuclear proliferation, and how we should be skeptical of any of the attempts of the Military-Industrial complex -- which is what Perle is all about -- to cook up a new war. The fact that both political parties were ready to believe China had stolen our “crown jewels” was, as you gently note, due to the pressures on Attorney General Janet Reno and Energy Secretary Bill Richardson. Janet Reno may have fumbled her way haplessly through this thicket, but Richardson told one “stretcher” after another in his willingness to allow Dr. Lee to sit in solitary for nine months, facing charges that would involve life imprisonment if proven.

When I was a young reporter for the Las Vegas Review-Journal in the early 1960s, I became friendly with a local land developer named Harry Polk, who told me at the time that if it were not for the federal courts, the United States would be as bad as the Soviet Union. A young innocent, I thought his comment harsh, hyperbolic. His own experience involved his annual struggles with Internal Revenue, after he successfully beat the IRS lawyers in the federal courts as they tried to convict him of various tax evasions. In the years since, I came to see the IRS drive him to an early grave, as he correctly predicted that once an agency as powerful as IRS was defeated in the judicial branch, it would never let up. Year after year they came after him with incessant audits and charges that he had to fend off. It was not until I came to Washington in 1965, though, that I realized how incredibly important it was for the Founders to give us a constitutional democracy with the judicial branch given sufficient powers to check the excesses of the executive and legislative branches. If it were not for U.S. Chief District Judge James Parker’s attentiveness -- and his willingness to treat the Justice Department lawyers as harshly as he did, -- it is relatively easy to see how the Republican leaders of Congress and President Clinton and his Cabinet would be quite prepared to sock away Wen Ho for life. No kidding. Here is the transcript of Judge Parker’s gloriously incendiary remarks, as printed in the Albuquerque Tribune:

The Fourth Estate, I’m happy to say, was part of the checks and balances. The NYTimes editorial page was boxed in when the news pages got tangled up with the Cox Commission because of Jeff Gerth’s “scoop,” and the WSJournal editorial page fell into line behind the Cox Commission without any serious inquiry of its own. The Washington Post did a fine job of keeping its perspective. Its veteran reporter, Walter Pincus, now in his 70s, should get a Pulitzer Prize for seeing the weakness in the government’s case all along. The LATimes came in late, but once Robert Sheer got interested, the LAT was competitive with the Post. The Washington Times in the past has checked the other papers on controversial stories, but this time around was clearly spoon-fed by the folks at the Cox Commission and still can’t quite accept the outcome.

This is a perfect case study in how checks and balances work when one little guy gets caught in the cross hairs of the big boys in a world-class power play. Someone should write a book.