Washington — United States Attorney General Edwin Meese III is in the eye of an ethical storm, with questions coming at him from every quarter. Mr. Meese's failure fully to disclose his interests in a ``blind trust,'' which was managed by a former official of the scandal-ridden Wedtech Corporation, was examined yesterday in a Senate subcommittee hearing. In addition, testimony this week by Lt. Col. Oliver North in the Iran-contra investigation implicates the attorney general in the cover-up of the sale of American arms to Iran.
Sen. Carl Levin (D) of Michigan, chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight on Government Management, convened yesterday's hearing. Addressing David Martin, director of the Office of Government Ethics (OGE), Senator Levin asked: ``Isn't it true the [investment] partnership was never approved by your office, neither was approval sought? Isn't it true that Meese didn't accurately describe the partnership?''
Mr. Martin replied: ``The form failed to disclose holdings and misnamed the partnership. We would have supervised the administration of a blind trust, but he didn't do that [make the information available].'' He said the partnership was listed as Financial Management International Inc. (Limited Blind Partnership), ``which connoted a pool relationship,'' when the name should have been listed as ``Meese Partners.''
Martin also said that had Meese Partners been listed, his office would have perceived a ``private-looking investment deal that would have prompted further analysis.''
Answering charges by Mr. Levin that the OGE was ``casual'' in its pursuit of Meese's questionable relationship with Wedtech, Martin said it was his policy, once a probe of Meese by an independent counsel began to ``take a back seat.''
He added, ``We were very sensitive about not interfering in an independent counsel investigation.''
Meese set up the financial arrangement in 1985 after he became attorney general, hiring W.Franklin Chinn, a Wedtech employee who eventually became a member of the company's board of directors, to administer the trust.
At the hearing, Levin read from a ``recusal agreement'' written by the attorney general in May 1985 and pointed out that the Chinn partnership was not listed. Martin said, ``If it was an asset, it should have been listed.''
Attorney General Meese has acknowledged interceding on Wedtech's behalf in 1982, when he was White House counselor and the Bronx defense contractor was lobbying for a $32 million, no-bid Army contract.
Four top officials of Wedtech have admitted to bribing federal, state , and local officials to obtain contracts. There are five criminal investigations under way.
On the Iran-contra front, the question of what Meese knew and whether he participated in a cover-up has arisen.
Colonel North testified in this week's joint hearings of select House and Senate committees that the attorney general knew ``within weeks'' of arms sales to Iran in November 1985.
North also asserted that Meese took part in preparing CIA director William Casey's false testimony to Congress about the key arms sale and supported a draft finding by the CIA general counsel, Stanley Sporkin, authorizing the sale.
The attorney general, in a statement made through spokesmen Terry Eastland, has denied North's assertions.
``As to the arms shipments that took place prior to 1986,'' said Mr. Eastland, ``he did not learn about these until November 1986.
``Further, the attorney general was in no way involved with the November 1985 finding. ... In fact, he did not know of any such November 1985 finding until a year later.''
In regard to preparing false testimony for Mr. Casey, Eastland said: ``The attorney general, along with Charles J. Cooper, attended the meeting.
Neither of them had any factual basis on which to determine the accuracy of the descriptions about pre-1986 shipments being related by participants in that meeting. The attorney general therefore could not have acquiesced ... in any inaccurate descriptions of those matters.''