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Minority report.

By the standards of the Reagan Administration, it appears that an act is not immoral if it is not illegal. And by the standards of special prosecutor Jacob A. Stein, an act is not illegal unless the defendant confesses, sobbingly, to a crime. these twin laxities have combined in a sickly whitewash of Edwin Meese.

See how the trick is done. Having given Meese the benefit of the doubt on all disputed matters of evidence, Stein announces, in his report released September 20, that he can find "no basis for prosecution" of the man on criminal charges. Stein adds piously that though he was asked by numerous authorities to offer an opinion on Meese's fitness for the post of Attorney General, he did not feel able to do so. President Reagan, in welcoming the report, announces in his oleaginous way, "It's always gratifying when the honor of a just man is vindicated." Meese's honor and capacity for justice were not, luckily for him and his President, the subject of the investigation.

to speak legalistically, Stein was within his brief in avoiding the question of Meese's integrity. The empowering statute confines a special prosecutor to the question of whether a Federal law has been broken. But Stein went out of his way to impose the narrowest possible interpretation on his labors. In July, for instance, he received a letter from Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, asking that as an independent counsel, Stein apply the American Bar Association's rules of professional conduct to Meese's case. Stein's reply is wonderful in its minimalism: With respect to the ABA's model rules, I note that Mr. Meese was not acting as a lawyer with respect to the matters under investigation. The model rules were drafted for application to the conduct of lawyers.

And Edwin Meese is only trying to become Attorney General of the United States. But let it pass; let is pass.

The pedantry and timidity of the investigation is evident on almost every page of the report. Where euphemism can be employed, it is employed lavishly. thus we read of "the lack of attention he devoted to his financial disclosure forms." The phrase "lack of attention" here is simply a compliant echo of Meese's claim that he did not recall a $15,000 loan from parties who were obviously interested in his influence at the White House. Where euphemism is not enough, the Stein report resorts to tautology, as in the case of the theft of President Carter's briefing book, where we read that "Mr. Meese's statements to the Congressional committees contain no evidence of Federal criminal law violations by Mr. Meese." Well, they wouldn't, would they?

There were eleven separate inquiries in the investigation. They ranged from the loan question (the coincidence between making loans to the Meese family and being appointed to a well-paid public sinecure) to the cuff-links question (Meese's sticking to some trinkets given him by the government of South Korea). Stein's review of these matters is often unintentionally revealing, as well as unintentionally funny. In deciding to treat Meese like a child on the question of "a nondisclosure," Stein writes that "without evidence of a need or desire on Mr. Meese's part to conceal these matters, only the weakest possible inference of willfulness could be drawn." How humiliating to have to be acquitted like that. Again, in the case of the Federal appointments given to Meese's friends, Stein solemnly says: The evidence indicated that Mssrs. Luce, Gray and Sandstrom were longtime supporters and friends of President Reagan. The evidence strongly suggested that none of them needed Mr. Meese's support and influence to obtain Federal jobs.

So that's all right then. (The evidence in this report, by the way, always seems to "indicate" and "suggest.") What Stein implies is that the way things are in this Administration, there is no means of identifying any one person as the source of patronage.

The issue before us is, Should Edwin Meese be Attorney General? Or, to put it another way, can one barrel spoil an entire bad apple? Is Meese the apple or the barrel? It's all too much for Jacob Stein, the sort of clever lawyer with a spotted bow tie who usually appears only in Dirty Harry movies. He ends on a note of extreme unction, washing his hands of the substantive questions by saying: There is sufficient interest in those other issues to support an expectation that they will not remain unexplored by those who will strive to do so free of all bias and prejudice.

Yeah, yeah. Meanwhile, Reagan and Meese claim the whole report as a (perfectly timed) vindication. I prefer Meese's envoi. He says, "The experience has taught me a great deal aboput the special circumstances of official life in Washington." Me, too.

On January 22 of last year, I wrote a column about the grisly symbiosis between the Moonies and the New Right. One of my choicest examples of this collaboration was The Washington Times, a rancid daily sheet launched by cultist freaks, cuff-link donors and White House speechwriters. My little piece drew a vicious letter from James R. Whelan, editor and publisher of the Times, who called me a jerk and so on and denied any connection with the Moonies [see "Letters," The Nation, March 19, 1983].

Hear Whelan, in his recent tearful resignation speech: The Washington Times is now firmly in the hands of top officials of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification church Movement. The Washington times has become a "Moonie newspaper."

Whelan went on, as if possessed by some demon of self-abnegation, to confirm all that I had said about Col. Bo Hi Pak of the South Korean C.I.A., whom Whelan credits with overall control of the editing and management functions of the daily. The final say in times affairs, Pak told Whelan, will rest with "the elders" of the church.

Good stuff. I don't care whether Whelan apologizes to me for his slanders of last year. I regard The Washington Times as, all in all, just another brick in the wall of separation.
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Title Annotation:whitewash in clearing Edwin Meese of criminal charges
Author:Hitchens, Christopher
Publication:The Nation
Article Type:column
Date:Oct 6, 1984
Words:1018
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