WASHINGTON -- Sen. Strom Thurmond, R.-S.C., is pressing the Justice Department to investigate whether the former top U.S. official on textile issues has committed criminal violations in lobbying for foreign governments.
In a letter sent Tuesday to Attorney General Edwin Meese, Thurmond, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, requested an inquiry into the activities of former Commerce Department official Walter Lenahan, and expressed concern about an alleged leak of U.S. trade information to textile-exporting nations.
Thurmond, from a major textile-producing state, said the investigation should focus on whether Lenahan 'criminally violated any conflict-of-interest laws' by lobbying for foreign governments after he left the Commerce Department.
Thurmond stressed he had 'no direct knowledge of how ... extraordinarily sensitive' information on textile trade talks was apparently leaked by former U.S. officials to a foreign nation, which sources have identified as Hong Kong.
Referring to numerous reports about Lenahan's lobbying activities, he wrote to Meese, 'If what I have read ... is true, I am personally angered and deeply concerned by what I consider to be, at the very least, a breach of trust and perhaps a violation of criminal law.'
Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., joined Thurmond in his call for a Justice Department investigation of Lenahan's activities.
Calling for a 'thorough investigation,' Hollings said Lenahan's job switch 'raises the specter that someone in the administration may have gone beyond lack of enforcement and actually aided foreign interests to the detriment of the American textile and apparel industry.'
Lenahan, who last February left his job as the Commerce Department's deputy assistant secretary for textiles and apparel, declined comment. He has denied wrongdoing in other published reports.
Thurmond also said the Commerce Department 'is concerned that (Lenahan) may have disclosed classified information in a recent speech he delivered in Hong Kong,' the largest exporter of textiles to the United States.
Commerce Department spokeswoman Desiree Tucker confirmed that such an inquiry has begun.
After Lenahan quit his government post, he joined International Business and Economic Research Corp., a consulting firm that shares a Washington office with the law firm of Mudge Rose Guthrie Alexander & Ferndon.
Before joining IBERC, Lenahan was approached twice last September by Mudge Rose representatives who were lobbying on behalf of Hong Kong, the law firm's filings under the Foreign Agents Registration Act at the Justice Department show.
A partner in the firm's Washington office, also is the president of IBERC, where Lenahan is now an executive vice president.
Mudge Rose's Justice Department filings show that it has a $200,000-a-year contract to represent Hong Kong, and that Hong Kong officials 'will have direct access to (personnel at) IBERC.' Without mentioning Lenahan, the filings say that IBERC's services on behalf of Hong Kong are covered by the Mudge Rose contract.
Upon his return in late April from trade talks with three Far East nations, Charles Carlisle, the chief U.S. textile negotiator, complained that the United States' negotiating stance had been leaked to either South Korea, Taiwan or Hong Kong.
Informed sources alleged the U.S. position was leaked to Hong Kong by one or more officials with access to textile trade negotiating information who had left government jobs in the last 90 days.