Jury selection starts today in the trial of former presidential aide Lyn Nofziger on charges he violated the Ethics in Government Act by improperly lobbying former White House colleagues. Mr. Nofziger's efforts were on behalf of the scandal-riddled Wedtech Corporation, Fairchild Industries, and the National Marine Engineers Beneficial Association.
Independent prosecutor James C. McKay says he plans to call United States Attorney General Edwin Meese III to ``give any testimony relevant to either side.'' Mr. Meese is expected to be quizzed about an April 8, 1982, letter he received, when he was counselor to President Reagan, from Nofziger on behalf of Wedtech.
The prosecution contends that Nofziger asked Meese to ``contact the secretary of the Army'' to aid Wedtech in acquisition of a $32 million Army contract. A month later Meese's deputy, James Jenkins, convened a White House meeting at which Wedtech was tentatively awarded the no-bid contract to build small engines for the Army.
Nofziger is charged in a four-count indictment with violating the one-year ban on lobbying former government associates. Mark Bragg, his business partner in the consulting firm they started after Nofziger left the White House as political director in January 1982, is charged with one count of aiding and abetting. Each offense carries a maximum prison term of two years and a $10,000 fine.
US District Court Judge Thomas Flannery refused to grant the defense team's request for a complete transcript of Meese's grand jury testimony. Mr. Bragg's lawyer, Richard Ben-Veniste, has indicated that his strategy is to point out to the jury that Bragg was a pawn in a broad effort to influence Meese and other officials.
Nofziger's lawyer, Larry Barcella, says his client has done nothing wrong.
The attorney general himself is the subject of what Mr. McKay terms a ``separate and distinct investigation'' by the same grand jury that indicted Nofziger. But in court papers made public prior to the Christmas holidays, McKay said: ``There is insufficient evidence as of this date that Attorney General Edwin Meese III knowingly participated in criminal activity in connection with Wedtech.''
Meese has acknowledged that he intervened on Wedtech's behalf, but only to ensure that the firm be given fair consideration. He said he did this after getting several memos from his longtime friend and former attorney, E.Robert Wallach. Mr. Wallach and W.Franklyn Chinn, the attorney general's former financial manager, have been indicted for ``fraudulent conduct vis-`a-vis their Wedtech Corporation activities.''
Wallach introduced Meese to Mr. Chinn and convinced the attorney general to invest $60,000 in a blind trust to be handled by Chinn's financial consulting firm. The investment, which netted Chinn a $40,000 profit through highly speculative stock purchases, brought Meese under scrutiny.
Both Wallach and Chinn have refused, under Fifth Amendment privileges, to appear before the federal grand jury conducting the investigations. Wallach did appear before the independent counsel last September and, in an unsworn interview, denied giving anything of value to Meese for any official act on behalf of Wedtech.