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Monday night while my son and I were watching the Olympic games, he
turned to me and shouted, “We won again!” I smiled at him and said,
“Yes, isn’t that nice?” As I watched him, I thanked God for my son’s
American heart. He was excited that the United States had won a gold
medal in the Olympic games.
For the last four years, Asian-Americans have been in a very
difficult position as a result of the 1996 campaign finance scandal,
commonly known as “Chinagate,” and the Los Alamos Laboratory security
breach, for which Dr. Wen Ho Lee was accused. Most Asian-Americans are
scared to death of prejudice, no matter how many generations they’ve
been here. Even people who have been here for four or five generations
still receive a message to “go home,” just as I have.
Go home? This is my home. Many Asian-American engineers who were
working in high-tech areas quit their jobs out of fear of becoming a
second Wen Ho Lee. And with the election coming, a lot of
Asian-Americans, especially Chinese-Americans, told me they are not
giving campaign contributions to any politicians. When I ask why not,
they say, “Look what happened to you.” They also say they are
definitely going to cast their votes in the 2000 presidential race.
What did happen to me? There is a part of my story I have not
written much about that, to me, seems relevant to Lee’s case. When the
Chinagate scandal erupted, I fully cooperated with the United States
Department of Justice. My sentencing date was delayed five times, and
just before the last delay, two FBI agents who knew my case well told me
they wanted to depose me one more time. I had already been deposed
several times, so I was curious as to this last-minute request. After
all, I told them everything I knew over and over again, and it had all
been audio and video recorded. The agents took me to an Embassy Suites
hotel room near the Los Angeles International Airport. I could tell by
the way they were acting that this deposition was also being recorded,
though they didn’t tell me so.
One of the agents asked me, “Johnny, did any Chinese people ask you
questions about President Clinton or the first lady or Vice President Al
Gore? And what kinds of questions did they ask you?”
I told him I had been asked casual questions by Chinese businessmen
over lunch or dinner. For example, they would ask me, “How much does
the president make in salary?”
“I don’t know,” I answered. “Maybe you should ask the Treasury
I was asked, “Why do they have a cat and not a dog?” to which I
answered, “How do I know? Maybe a cat gets fed less.”
Some Chinese businessmen even asked, “Why do they only have one
daughter and not more children?” I had to chuckle at that one. “How do
I know?” I answered. “Maybe you should ask Mrs. Clinton.”
They even wanted to know who in the first couple was smarter. “Well,
according to the American media, the first lady is more dominant and in
control of the White House,” I said.
I told all of this to the FBI agents, who smiled through their
serious demeanors. I suddenly realized that something was wrong. These
agents knew me very well. They also knew my family very well and knew
my case inside and out. Why would they ask me these kinds of questions?
After the short deposition, I asked the agents, “Are you trying to pin
me as a Chinese spy?”
The agents answered, “Johnny, we know you are not, but we are just
following orders from Washington, D.C. We smell poo-poo (yes, they
actually said poo-poo). We know you are not a spy, but we’re just
My heart began to tremble, because I now understood that the
Department of Justice was trying to paint a different picture of me. I
went back to one of my attorneys, Paul Murphy, and explained all of this
to him. Mr. Murphy said, “Don’t worry. It ain’t going to happen. We
know you are not a spy. It ain’t going to happen.”
Finally, I received my sentence from Judge Manuel Real. After that
experience, I began to realize that if the government was under a lot of
pressure for screwing something up, it would try to pin the blame on
With that said, I am not necessarily trying to communicate that I
believe Dr. Wen Ho Lee is a government patsy for the security breach at
Los Alamos. But I am asking Americans to take a closer look at the
situation, because I would not put it past this administration to let
yet another person take the fall for its mistakes.
Dr. Wen Ho Lee’s 26-year-old daughter Alberta spoke with people in
Houston, Texas, this week. She said, “When I visited my father in
prison, I tried not to cry. I looked at my father through the glass and
saw him with handcuffs and leg irons, moving very slowly. There were
two FBI agents standing at his side taking notes. In my eyes, my father
has been treated like an animal. I cannot believe this is my father. I
cannot believe this is my country.”
She is a second-generation Chinese-American, which means she was born
and raised here in the United States. She spent all of her life in the
mainstream of American society. Suddenly her father was accused of
espionage, and she was shocked. She already has a degree in computer
science, but she decided to go back to school to become an attorney so
she can fight for others’ rights.
As I watched the Olympic games with my son, I remembered a story. A
few years ago, Kristi Yamaguchi won the gold medal for figure skating at
the Olympics in Japan. She was asked how it felt to compete in her home
country. Seeming a bit surprised by the question, she replied by saying
the United States is her home and that she doesn’t even speak Japanese.
Kristi was born and raised in the United States, and her parents were
also born and raised in the United States. And in case that’s not enough
to establish her nationality, her grandparents were also born and raised
in the United States. Yet, people still assumed her loyalty was to
Ladies and gentlemen, whether you are an Irish-American, a
Hispanic-American, an African-American or even an Asian-American, I am
proud to tell you we are all Americans. Our heritage is the American
heritage. Our children are drinking the same water and eating the same
hamburgers and playing the same games.
When Chinagate erupted, I never used the so-called “race card,”
because I had no race card to use. I am an American. Yes, I realize I
am from Asian descent, but my nationality as an American supersedes
You know who uses the race card? Our politicians. When I registered
myself as a Democrat, I thought Democrats were looking after minorities
and poor people. But as soon as the government screws up and our
national security is compromised, who is the first person to get the
blame? Wen Ho Lee — an Asian-American. Then as soon as it becomes
clear there isn’t enough evidence to pin all the blame on Lee, President
Clinton says he is confused with the actions of those officers who took
Lee into custody, implying that Lee was imprisoned solely because of the
slant of his eyes. Yet, it was Clinton’s administration that locked Lee
up in the first place.
No, no, no. This time Asian-Americans see Clinton and the Democrat
Party for what it really is. To the Asian-American community, there’s no
bigger political storm than what has been taking place in the last four
years. Most Asian-Americans pride themselves in their educational
pursuits. They are not fooled. As I am fond of saying, “Fool me once,
shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” They will show these
Democrats exactly where their loyalty lies this November. It won’t be a
surprise to me, but it will be a surprise to the Democrat Party.
Asian-Americans are a very quiet group, but they will show how they feel
with their actions.
I personally don’t know Wen Ho Lee, but there is one thing I know we
have in common. His civil rights defense attorney, Brian Sun, is also
my attorney. So I decided to give Brian a call and ask him about it.
He said they intend to sue government officials who illegally leaked Dr.
Lee’s personal information. That’s a violation of his civil rights. “We
have to step up and meet these challenges to our community,” said Sun.
I’ve been thinking about my kids, who were born and raised here.
Their children will be born and raised here. They are Americans — very
proud Americans. They go to church every Sunday, and they will always
cheer for U.S. athletes at Olympic games in the years to come.
We, Asian-Americans, hope politicians in the White House and
Washington, D.C., never use a race card against us for their political
interests, and we hope they will never use the race card against any
other group of Americans. We are the American people, regardless of the
color of our skin or the shape of our eyes. I don’t know if you have a
tear in your eye every time you sing “God bless America,” but I do.