Meese review

IT is appropriate for the Senate Judiciary Committee to reexamine fully the issue of whether presidential counselor Edwin Meese ought to be confirmed as attorney general. The committee should seek to obtain all relevant facts and take additional testimony from Mr. Meese and others in an effort to get to the bottom of the questions surrounding the Meese appointment.

The facts obtained - not partisan politics - should form the basis for deciding whether to approve the Meese nomination. Yet politics to some extent inevitably is involved: This is an election year.

In addition, anytime a White House counsel is asked to testify before a Senate committee, as Fred Fielding has been requested (and has declined), then often-political questions are raised about separation of powers and attorney-client privilege.

In its probing the committee needs to ascertain whether there has been conflict of interest (which Mr. Meese denies) in the administration's having provided federal appointments to two men who helped Mr. Meese deal with financial problems when he went to Washington. The committee should endeavor to find out, as well, whether Mr. Meese played a role in the obtaining of 1980 Carter campaign documents by the Reagan campaign. (He has denied having done so.) And it ought also to delve into circumstances surrounding a $15,000 loan from a friend to Mr. Meese's wife, which Mr. Meese says he forgot and thus did not report on a government form as the 1978 Ethics in Government Act requires.

In the course of its deliberations the committee should remember the circumstances which surround the charges. For one thing, it should be realized that Mr. Meese - like many officials who go to Washington - apparently did find himself in considerable financial difficulty as a result of the move and his job change. As to the allegations that Mr. Meese was sent Carter campaign documents (he denies knowledge of them), it is well known in Washington that Mr. Meese has been prone to mislay memos and other papers. Thus it is possible that, if such papers were sent to him, he might not have noticed them.

None of this is to prejudge the Meese case one way or the other. The Judiciary Committee's investigation should be fair, thorough, and conducted as expeditiously as possible.

The attorney general is the top law-enforcement officer of the nation. It is important that the office be filled by someone who not only has exhibited integrity in his dealings, but who gives the appearance of probity as well. The committee needs to satisfy itself that Mr. Meese meets these criteria.

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