Why Ed Meese Shouldn't Be Confirmed

By Hitchens, Christopher | The Nation, December 29, 1984 | Go to article overview
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Why Ed Meese Shouldn't Be Confirmed


Hitchens, Christopher, The Nation


in October 1975 the staff of the Watergate special prosecutor released its final report. Prominent among the recommendations was the following: The President should not nominate, and the Senate should not confirm, as Attorney General or as any other appointee in high Department of Justice posts, a person who has served as the President's campaign manager or in a similar high-level campaign role. . . . A campaign manager seeks support for his candidate and necessarily incurs obligations to political leaders and other individuals through wide geographic areas.

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.

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