Thornburgh makes Justice his own. The Justice Department was still reeling from attacks on Meese when Thornburgh came on. In just weeks, he has managed to set a tone of compromise, not confrontation.
As subtle as the movement of the hand of a clock, Attorney General Dick Thornburgh is edging the Justice Department out of the Meese era. Aug. 23: On his second day in office, Mr. Thornburgh says he is reconsidering a last-minute order by his predecessor, Edwin Meese III, that would subject Congress to independent counsel investigations.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Sept 1: Thornburgh announces a new travel policy barring official trips by department employees unless the trips relate directly to their jobs. The move, which came on the last day of a trip by Mr. Meese and five department officials to Japan, was seen by some as a rebuff to Meese.
Sept. 6: The new attorney general removes William Bradford Reynolds from his position as counselor to the attorney general. Mr. Reynolds, the controversial head of the civil rights division, was considered Meese's closest confidant in the department.
Sept. 12: Thornburgh removes Patrick Korten as his chief spokesman. Mr. Korten had taken the place of Terry Eastland, who was fired by Meese, reportedly because he felt Korten would wage a more vigorous defense for Meese.
Barely a month in office, Dick Thornburgh is already shaping the Justice Department into his own image. Justice watchers note that some changes, like personnel moves, are natural. But, they say, the changes are symbolic of a shift in direction for the department - a shift that has already been felt, both in style and in substance.
With only four months left in the Reagan administration, this might seem a futile exercise. But Thornburgh is widely believed to have the inside track for attorney general under a Bush administration, and thus seems to be getting a running start on the next four years, should Mr. Bush win.
``There already seems to be a shift in tone from confrontation to compromise,'' says Ralph Neas, executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.
Even those who supported Meese's conservative policies say Thornburgh will probably be a more effective advocate for the administration.
``He's operating without the weight of a Wallach,'' says Terry Eastland, Meese's former spokesman. Meese's friendship with E. Robert Wallach, who is under indictment in New York for his lobbying activities, was the subject of a year-long investigation into Meese's affairs by an independent counsel.
For department employees who have straddled both the Meese and Thornburgh eras, perhaps the most noticeable difference is that Thornburgh has turned down the ideological volume. ``Mr. Thornburgh has a more of a law-enforcement perspective that you can't put neatly into an ideological column,'' says one Justice Department official.
As an example he cites a 1987 decision by the Supreme Court, McNally v. US. The decision severely restricted the department's ability to bring cases against state and local government officials. Prosecutors in the criminal division and US attorneys' offices wanted to immediately pass a new law that would address the court's concern. Congress was ready to do so, and asked the department for a proposal.
However, for a variety of reasons - ideological reservations that some top Justice officials had with the proposal, and general disorganization in the upper echelons of the department - it took nearly a year for the department to send its proposal to Capitol Hill. In the meantime, prosecutors complained that they were operating with one hand tied.
A proposal was finally sent to the Hill while Meese was still in office. But it was only during the last couple of weeks of August - after Thornburgh had become acting attorney general - that the hard-core negotiations with Congress took place.
``McNally is of particular interest to [Thornburgh],'' says Thomas Boyd, head of legislative affairs for the department, who points out that Thornburgh is a former prosecutor, US attorney, and head of the criminal division. He denies, however, that there was a ``shift'' into high gear when the new attorney general arrived.