Why Ed Meese shouldn't be confirmed.
If only the liabilities incurred by Edwin Meese were merely geographic in their scope. He has shown, in his contriving a tax exemption for the racialist degree-mill Bob Jones University, that his loyalty is to the Republican Party platform rather than to the body of law and precedent. He has proved, in his correspondence with Reagan crony Lyn Nofziger regarding the deseregation of schools in Washington State, that he has one ear cocked to the voices of his fellow time servers. He also shown, in his December 1983 comment about poor people's preference for soup kitchens and in his description of the American Civil Liberties Union as a "criminals' lobby," that his other ear is as deaf as a stump.
Unfortunately, it is not these considerations that will obstruct his confirmation as Attorney General of the United States. When the Senate Judiciary Committee meets next month for what the White House and the Republican majority regard as a pushover hearing, they will have to confront three serious contradictions in the bluff testimony Meese gave before the committee last March. These were not recognized at the time. Nor were they emphasized sufficiently in the report of independent counsel Jacob A. Stein [see 'Minority Report," October 6]. They are:
[$S] The Barrack Factor. On March 8, 1984, Thomas Barrack, a real estate developer, told the Senate Judiciary Committee that although he had helped sell Meese's house in La Mesa, California (putting $83,000 of his own money into the deal), and had later secured a government post, he "had never had a meeting in Mr. Meese's office" between the two events. In a testimony richly larded with "I cannot recall" and "at that point in time," assertion was one of the few that Barrack made unambiguously. He added, "Did Mr. Meese ever talk to me about a job? Absolutely not."
Buried in the turgid and evasive text of the Stein report is clear proof that Barrack met at least three times with Meese between the house sale and his appointment as Deputy Under Secretary of the Interior. He met Meese in Washington on September 8, 1982, one week after the sale. Stein records a letter concerning that meeting, in which Barrack thanks Meese for his "counsel and encouragement." Barrack maintains that this refers to a discussion about the possibility of his moving to New York, a city about which Meese knows nothing. He justifies the remark by "reference to a discussion with Mr. Meese of the problems involved in moving a family from the West Coast to the East, and Mr. Meese's assurances that the move was not a difficult one." Barrack was never asked why he would discuss his moving plans with Meese, or what he proposed to do on the East Coast. Meese, says the Stein report, "had no recollection of Mr. Barrack's September 8 visit to his office until he found and reviewed the letter in his files."
One month later, on November 9, Barrack dined with Meese and his wife at the 1789 Restaurant in Georgetown. That very afternoon, he had met with Transportation Secretary Drew Lewis and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Samuel Pierce. Next day, he was due to see Interior Secretary James Watt and Energy Secretary Donald Hodel. This blissful round was to culminate on November 11 with an appointment with Commerce Secretary Malcolm Baldrige. Two weeks previously, E. Pendleton James, former director of personnel at the White House and another principal in the La Mesa house sale, had written to each of the above, urging that Barrack's talents be recognized, adding, "I should mention that Ed Meese knows Tom and I'm sure also would endorse my strong support."
Barrack and the Meeses maintain that they endured a dinner between these two hectic rounds of meetings without ever alluding to the vulgar subject of a job for "Tom." They supposedly preserved the same reticence over Thanksgiving, which the Meeses passed agreeably enough at the Barrack ranch in Santa Barbara. As the Stein report non-committallly puts it:
Mr. Barrack had by this time accepted the position of Deputy Undersecretary of Interior and was planning to begin his work in Washington on December 1, about one week later. He stated that he instructed his staff at the ranch not to mention this fact in the Meeses' presence.
He told the help but not Meese? Why would the help bring the question up? On December 2, 1982, the day after he assumed his duties at Interior, Barrack went to Meese's birthday party at Meese's house. Again, it seems that he was too delicate to mention his own good fortune to the President's chief counsel, a man keenly interested in appointments.
In light of all this, Meese's earlier sworn testimony to the Judiciary Committee, and Barrack's too, seem to hover just on the safe side of perjury. But on one point, Meese can be said to have told the plain truth. The move from the West Coast to the East is, if you approach it in the right style, "not a difficult one." This brings us to . . .
[sec] The Transition Trust. On March 1, 1983, Meese replied to Judiciary Committee chair Strom Thurmond's indulgent question about the sacrifices he had made to serve his President by mentioning "the unanticipated expense of moving to Washington, D.C., none of which was reimbursed by the government." The next day, under equally soft questioning from Senator Orrin Hatch, Meese phrased the matter in a similar but not identical way:
HATCH: And in addition to that, if I understand it, you had to pay all of your moving expenses as well?
MEESE: That is right.
HATCH: And all of the costs of bringing your family back here as well?
MEESE: Yes, Senator.
HATCH: And that all came out of your own pocker?
MEESE: Yes, sir.
Facts can be dreary as hell, but as the Stein report shows, Meese received $10,000 for "moving expenses" from the Presidential Transition Trust. On Trust check number 1069, made out to Edwin Meese, the words "moving expenses" are crossed out and the words "consulting fees" inked in. It's not even clear whether Meese declared this income or had another of his nagging bouts of amnesia.
Again, this nifty little adjustment was unknown to the Judiciary Committee at the time of its hearings. So was the inelegant little shuffle that I'll call . . .
[sec.] The Promotion. Did Meese pull strings to gain promotion to full colonel in the Army Reserve in 1983? Like the staunch soldier that he is, Meese prefers to blame the brass for his rapid rise through the ranks. At his confirmation hearing he boldly claimed that he was "a vitim of the Army's bad judgment." In fact, the promotion presents another example of his failure to distinguish between public and private interest. And it underlines, once more, his lack of veracity on the stand.
One November 1, 1982, the Army's Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel, Lieut. Gen. Max Thurman, wrote a memorandum to the Chief of Staff, Gen. Edward C. Meyer. The memo stated that "constructive credit" for a course in national security management qualifying Meese for promotion to colonel could be granted only at the request of Meese or his commanding officer (Gen. Thomas Turnage, director of the Selective Service System). Such a request had to be approved by Gen. William Berkman, chief of the Army Reserve. General Thurman's memo advised against such approval, since Meese was taking the requisite course by correspondence and had not yet completed it. Generals Turnage and Berkman overruled Thurman, effectively raising Meese to full colonel. Turnage is described in the Stein report as "an acquaintance and former associate of Mr. Meese from California, who had been designated (though not yet confirmed) as Director of the Selective Service System." Stein points out too that very shortly after, General Berkman was nominated for a second four-year term as chief of the Army Reserve.
General Thurman's memorandum recommending against Meese's promotion was passed to Secretary of the Army John Marsh, who forwarded it to Meese. Meese says that he doesn't recall seeing it, but Stein records statements by Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and by Marsh in which they recall the memo and say that Meese urged them to reappoint General Berkman.
Meese told the Judiciary Committee that he had no knowledge of any Army concern about his appointment receiving special treatment. Either he is lying or Secretaries Marsh and Weinberger are.
The contrasictions in the three areas discussed above have not been put to Meese for explanation thus far. They should be. The matters are not trivial. But all one can find is complicity among the Republicans and resignation among the Democrats. The following Democrats sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee: Max Baucus, Joseph Biden, Robert Byrd, Dennis DeConcini, Howell Heflin, Edward Kennedy, Patrick Leahy and Howard Metzenbaum.
I telephoned all their offices last week. Leahy's staff told me that the Senator was too busy wondering whether he could "rank" on Intelligence or Agriculture and feared that a new controversy over Meese would be "seen as counterproductive." Biden's people assured me that "most senators were off campaigning" when the Stein report came out. Heflin's office said: "It's too early--the members have not focused. It's the same nomination." Still others refused to comment or spoke of the psychological effect of the Reagan victory or said "in terms of" or "with regards to" all the time. Kennedy was on his way to Ethiopia when I called his office, but in his last statement on the matter he said, prematurely, that the Stein report had cleared Meese of any suspicion fo impropriety and that such "questions" as remained were about civil and human rights. As we went to press, Common Cause issued an analysis of the Stein report which, though it did not correlate Stein's evidence with the trascript of the committee hearings, found against Meese on eithical grounds. Media attention to this was slight.
Only from Howard Metzenbaum's office has there been any sign of an understanding that this is the next Attorney General we're talking about. Now the Reaganites are going around Washington telling all who will listen that Metzenbaum made the HUAC enemies list back in 1954. Meese will probably have "no recollection" of that little gambit either.
One of three things could now happen. The President may, as he should, blushingly withdraw Meese from nomination. The Judiciary Committee or the full Senate may vote him down. Or, in the lazy belief that they asked all the right questions the first time, the ten Republicans and eight Democrats on the committee may nod into office, as "the People's Attorney" and the nation's chief law officer, a man who has already shown that he cannot recognize a conflict of interest when it bites him in the leg.