Honors for scientist draw GOP lawmakers’, patriotic group’s ire
Steve Geissinger, Oakland Tribune, Jun. 7
SACRAMENTO — The Asian legislative caucus, which canceled honoring former accused spy Wen Ho Lee in the Assembly after an Oakland Tribune report triggered spirited opposition from Republican lawmakers and a patriotic group, announced Sunday an “emergency press conference” today to “set the record straight on his case.”
The initial story on the event triggered such an uproar throughout the state that the Asian caucus — and its Bay Area members — announced Saturday it was “regretfully” canceling an Assembly ceremony today honoring Lee.
The Asian caucus said it was “outraged” by a patriotic group’s “inflammatory remarks in Friday’s Oakland Tribune” story on the event, and the resulting plans by the Assembly Republican Caucus to fight the ceremony.
The six-member Asian caucus, which includes Democratic Assembly members Wilma Chan of Oakland and Leland Yee of San Francisco, had planned to honor Lee, whose case ended in uncertainty, on Monday on the floor of the lower house.
The chairwoman of the Asian caucus, Assemblywoman Judy Chu, D-Monterey Park, issued a statement that she canceled the session honoring Lee for his courage while facing spy accusations four years ago “in order to spare him from an awkward situation arising from the Assembly Republican Caucus’ objection.”
On Sunday, Chu announced in another statement that the caucus and Asian leaders from throughout the state would hold a news conference in Sacramento today not only to “set the record straight,” but to attack the comments by the leader of a new group formed in California to support the war on terrorism.
Infuriated representatives of Move America Forward said Asian caucus members might be violating their oaths of office to defend against domestic enemies by honoring Lee.
“This is so wrong on so many fronts,” said former GOP state lawmaker Howard Kaloogian, who heads the group.
The roots of the organization extend to the Bay Area, where KSFO AM-560 radio personality Melanie Morgan serves as a vice chairwoman.
Lee, a former computer engineer in the nuclear-weapons program at Los Alamos National Laboratory, was jailed nine months, under special orders previously applied only to terrorist and Mafia defendants.
He never was charged with stealing nuclear secrets for China, although that was the gist of news coverage of his case. Nor was he exonerated.
Lee pleaded guilty to a single felony of using an unclassified, unsecure computer to download “information related to the national defense.”
He and a large band of Asian supporters, many of them from the Bay Area, claimed the government pursued him simply because he was a Chinese American.
The Asian caucus said it still plans to privately honor him with a “profile in courage” award today at a caucus summit.
“We applaud Assembly member Chu and the Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus decision to honor Dr. Wen Ho Lee and their decision to spare Dr. Lee (on the Assembly floor) from unwarranted, racially-charged, inaccurate and irresponsible accusations made by misinformed and overzealous politicians,” said Phil Ting, executive director of the Asian Law Caucus and member of the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs.
“At the same time we are outraged at the inflammatory and erroneous comments by Howard Kaloogian” in the newspaper story, Ting said in a statement.
Other members of the caucus include Democratic Assembly members Carol Liu of Pasadena and George Nakano of Torrance. The sixth member is state Board of Equalization member John Chiang.