Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) yesterday requested a Justice Department investigation into whether the top textile official in the Commerce Department violated criminal laws when he left government this year to advise foreign governments on trade policy.

Thurmond, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that "significant questions" have been raised by the textile industry and the press about the "propriety" of Walter C. Lenahan's conduct after he left the Commerce Department in February to join International Business and Economic Research Corp. (IBERC).

"If what I have read about Mr. Lenahan is true, I am personally angered and deeply disturbed by what I consider to be, at the very least, a breach of trust and perhaps a violation of criminal law," Thurmond said in a letter to Attorney General Edwin Meese III.

"It is for that reason that I am today requesting that you direct the Public Integrity Section of the Department of Justice to conduct a thorough and complete investigation into Mr. Lenahan's activities leading up to his employment with IBERC and his representation of foreign governments after leaving his post at the Commerce Department."

The case is another element in the spreading controversy over former federal officials who become highly paid lobbyists for foreign interests. The primary focus of the controversy has been former White House aide Michael K. Deaver, who is under investigation by a special prosecutor for his representation of Canada on the acid rain issue.

Lenahan, former deputy assistant secretary of Commerce in charge of textile policy, declined to comment.

Michael P. Daniels, a lawyer who long has represented textile-exporting nations and the president of IBERC, was unavailable for comment yesterday. In the past, however, he has denied that Lenahan did anything "illegal . . . improper . . . [or] even seemingly improper."

This is the first time a criminal investigation has been requested into Lenahan's activities as an adviser for foreign governments on textile negotiations.

The General Accounting Office, however, started its own probe of Lenahan's activities 10 days ago at the request of Rep. Doug Barnard Jr. (D-Ga.), chairman of the commerce, consumer and monetary affairs subcommittee of the House Committee on Government Operations. In addition, the Commerce Department is looking into whether Lenahan, in a Hong Kong speech last month, used classified information he got while working in the government.

While Lenahan has not been accused of any specific crime, Thurmond cited in his letter to Meese reports from textile negotiator Charles Carlisle that the U.S. position in sensitive textile talks had been leaked in advance to foreign governments.

"While I have no direct knowledge of how this information was released," Thurmond said, "I find it unconscionable that anyone either currently or recently employed by the federal government would provide data of this significance to a foreign government. This problem becomes especially onerous when our domestic textile and apparel industries, and the thousands of Americans employed by them, are being deluged by a flood of cheaply produced and subsidized foreign imports, and are dependent on our textile trade agreements to help correct the problem."

As a result of the reports from Carlisle, Thurmond introduced legislation that would ban former federal employes from working for any foreign government for two years after leaving U.S. service and would bar them from lobbying the U.S. government on any issue for one year. Certain high-ranking officials would face a lifetime bar against representing foreign interests. The Judiciary Committee is likely to report the bill out this month.

Thurmond is a long-time supporter of domestic textile interests and a prime sponsor of a bill, vetoed by President Reagan, to sharply curtail textile imports.

He has used his influence with Reagan in the past to tighten textile import rules, and in 1981 was responsible for the formation of an interagency group, the Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreements (CITA), to check imports and order new quotas. Lenahan was named by the White House to head that group, and until he left the government was regarded by textile nations as a major roadblock to their increased sales in this country.

Soon after leaving the U.S. government, Lenahan was in Geneva as an adviser to Hong Kong in negotiations over the renewal of the Multi-Fiber Arrangement (MFA). In testimony before a congressional committee last month, Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) accused Lenahan of gaining access to confidential U.S. negotiating strategies before going to the Geneva meeting.

According to Justice Department records, Lenahan, while still in government, met at least three times with lawyers from Mudge, Rose, Gutherie, Alexander and Ferdon to discuss textile imports from Hong Kong and China. Daniels, president of the consulting firm Lenahan works for, is a partner of that law firm.