Meese makes his case before conservatives
After several months in which Edwin Meese III appeared on the edge of unemployment, the attorney general is taking the offensive in his bid to keep his job. Today Mr. Meese is scheduled to present his case to conservative Republicans in the House. At the meeting, which Meese requested last week, he will lay out for the first time, according to one source, a detailed rebuttal of allegations made against him by the chairman of a Senate subcommittee earlier this month.Skip to next paragraph
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The meeting with the Conservative Opportunity Society, a group of about two dozen congressmen, comes a week after a similar talk with Republican senators, which Meese also sought. Unlike the Senate briefing, in which the possibility of resignation was discussed in general terms, Meese is giving House members precise ammunition to shoot down allegations that he has engaged in illegal or unethical behavior.
``The feeling is, there are two ways to approach the problem: Take the high road and be above it all, or fight back,'' says Patrick McGuigan, a senior scholar at the conservative Free Congress Foundation. ``He's going to fight back.''
Meese has scored some recent victories in the White House and within the conservative camp in general, which as recently as last week seemed on the verge of withdrawing support from him. His ability to ride out the crises of the last few months is leading both supporters and critics to say that Meese will leave office at the time of his or President Reagan's choosing, and not a moment before.
The basis of today's meeting with Republican congressmen is a memo prepared by Meese's lawyers and sent last Wednesday to Sen. Carl Levin (D) of Michigan, chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management.
The 18-page memo, a copy of which was obtained by the Monitor, rebuts a report issued by Mr. Levin's office May 4 which charged that Meese, when he was a White House counselor, had improper contacts with government officials to help the Wedtech Corporation win a government contract.
The memo by Meese's lawyers states that the Senate report is ``seriously wrong ... and a fair and complete review of the record leads to the conclusions that Meese did not violate White House policy. ...'' It then states why the contacts with procurement officials were not improper; that Meese's involvement was ``minimal''; and that Meese did not ignore legal advice not to intervene, as the Senate report states, but was unaware of such advice.
Meese's appeal to congressional Republicans, both last week and today, is viewed as a move to galvanize support among erstwhile supporters, who have increasingly seen the attorney general as a liability for both the President and presidential hopeful George Bush. Notes Rep. Donald Lukens (R) of Ohio, who planned to attend the meeting, ``Some individual members would like specifics, including me.''
``Specifics are always helpful,'' says Meese's new chief spokesman, Patrick Korten. ``In the absence of details from us, [legislators] are forced to rely upon what they read in the papers, and that may not be very favorable.''
The meeting is ``crucial'' to Meese's status on the Hill, a Republican House aide says. ``Clearly the congressmen will be measuring his responses'' to their questions, he says, ``and then they'll decide whether they want to continue to walk the plank for Meese.''