Secretary of the Interior Manuel Lujan Jr., who is seeking to block Japanese ownership of the tourist concession business at Yosemite National Park, was accused of misleading the public in a harshly worded rebuke from two well-known Washington political figures on Wednesday.
Former Republican Sen. Howard Baker and former Democratic Party Chairman Robert S. Strauss charged that Lujan has tried to "frighten the public into believing that an American national treasure" will be under foreign control.
They also accused Lujan of trying to "intimidate and coerce" the owners into donating the Yosemite Park & Curry Co. facilities, which have been valued at $50 million to $300 million, to the government.
Baker and Strauss both sit on the board of the Curry Co.'s parent, MCA Inc., which has agreed to be purchased by Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. of Japan for $6.59 billion. Under the deal, the Curry Co. was to be placed in an escrow account until an American buyer could be found within the next year.
"It is ironic that you have launched a massive press campaign to point out the dangers of foreign control of the Yosemite concession while actually blocking the very mechanism designed to prevent this from occurring," Baker and Strauss said in their five-page letter. The two also said Lujan had reneged on an earlier pledge to support the deal.
Lujan had no immediate response to the letter. In the last several days, however, he has publicly expressed strong opposition to Matsushita's ownership of the Curry Co. Lujan recently said he would take steps to cancel the government's contract with the company. He has also ordered a full legal review of the terms under which the Curry Co. is to pass into foreign hands.
Lujan, who has refused to give his approval to a plan to place the Curry Co. into an escrow account, recently told The Times that he opposes foreign ownership of Yosemite facilities.