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Attorney General Smith resigns to return to L.A.

US Attorney General William French Smith is resigning his Cabinet post, an administration official said Sunday, and White House counselor Edwin Meese III is expected to take the Justice Department post.

The official said Mr. Smith informed Reagan of his decision Wednesday and Reagan told him he ''could stay as long as he wanted.'' Reports said the formal White House announcement could come as early as today.

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Smith ''thought it was time to leave,'' and he wants to return to his Los Angeles law firm, the source said.

The official said he expected Mr. Meese would replace Smith, saying: ''It sure looks like it. That's the job he's wanted all his life.''

Smith achieved many of his goals during his three-year term, the official noted. He ''increased the budget over 50 percent for law enforcement, refocusing that effort on drug traffic and crime.''

Under Smith's direction, the Justice Department implemented controversial civil rights policies and new antitrust policies favoring business and worked toward major reforms of immigration and criminal law. He also advocated moving away from mandatory school busing and racial hiring quotas.

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