WASHINGTON -- Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott asserted yesterday that President Clinton had failed to closely monitor the export of satellite technology and had thus allowed China to boost its military capability.
His charge triggered a political furor, with each party accusing each other of jeopardizing national security.
Even as Lott cautioned senators not to jump to conclusions about the Senate's investigation of U.S. satellites launched in China, he laid out what he called an "interim report" on it.
The majority leader said congressional investigators had reached five "major interim judgments" stemming from charges that White House officials and their allies in the satellite industry had compromised U.S. security interests:
The Clinton administration's "wholly inadequate" export controls for satellites have failed to protect sensitive U.S. technology.
Sensitive satellite technology has been transferred to China.
China has received military benefits from U.S. satellite exports.
The White House has ignored "overwhelming information" about Chinese efforts to spread technologies used to make weapons of mass destruction and has consciously protected China and U.S. satellite companies from trade sanctions.
Information about China's efforts to influence U.S. elections "should remove all resistance to naming an independent counsel" to investigate campaign finance abuses by the Democrats.
Charging that administration agencies had obstructed the Senate's China investigation, Lott also threatened to either subpoena information or block White House appointees until the administration becomes more forthcoming.
The response from the White House and Senate Democrats was swift and scathing.
Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle called Lott's remarks "one of the most partisan attacks to date by the majority leader."
Mike McCurry, Clinton's spokesman, called Lott's remarks "flabbergasting."
"That was not a serious statement by a serious person," McCurry said. "It was a political argument made by a politician for political benefit."
Sen. Bob Kerrey, a Nebraska Democrat who is vice chairman of '' the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is leading the China inquiry, said Lott's 30-page statement read as if it were the conclusion of the committee.
In fact, Kerrey said, committee investigators had drafted no interim report, let alone reached any "major interim judgments."
Kerrey accused Lott of misusing classified information for political gain and said Lott's political gambit threatened to split the bipartisan Intelligence Committee in two, damaging national security in the process.
Even Sen. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, a Republican member of the Intelligence Committee, seemed taken aback.
Lugar conceded that he had seen no new information of illegal transfers of satellite technology, but he said there might be evidence that has not yet been turned over by the administration.
"Maybe Senator Lott had a premonition," Lugar said.
Sen. Richard C. Shelby, the Republican chairman of the Intelligence Committee, said he was "certainly not going to come to preliminary conclusions," but he did say "the tendencies of the evidence tend to support what [Lott] said."
The committee originally intended to complete its work by the end of this month, although Kerrey said Lott's broadside might delay a final report.
Lott's report could have an effect in both the political and legislative arenas.
Last week, he vowed to pass legislation reversing the Clinton administration's decision to shift control of satellite exports from the State Department to the Commerce Department.
"You can't have it in the Commerce Department, especially when it's run by a political hack" such as the late Commerce Secretary Ronald H. Brown, Lott said.
Kerrey said he saw no efforts by the administration to obstruct the Senate inquiry.
"Our committee has a stack of data we can't even get through," Kerrey said. "The administration has gone overboard in supplying information."
The satellite industry steeled itself for a fight. Industry representatives vowed to resist any reversal of a White House policy that they called a sound continuation of efforts begun in the Reagan administration to open China to U.S. high-technology exports.
The industry had fought for years to shift communications-satellite technology oversight to the business-friendly Commerce Department, a shift they secured in 1996.
"How could [Lott] come to these conclusions if they haven't completed the investigation?" asked Laurie Adler, manager of international trade for the Aerospace Industry Association.
She reiterated the industry's position that no sensitive technology has been transferred from satellite companies to the Chinese.
Pub Date: 7/15/98