No room for cronies

AFTER long resisting the advice of everyone but the one who mattered most - the President - Ed Meese is resigning as attorney general. Mr. Meese finds himself ``fully vindicated'' by the decision of a special prosecutor to file a report but not to indict him. This is at best a straw of respectability to clutch at.

Meese's problems started from the nature of his nomination: He was the President's friend, loyal to the tablet of Reagan political values they etched during their California years. Fittingly, it was from Sacramento that Meese called the President Tuesday to say he would be going.

But Meese's nomination was not based on a proven record as a servant of the law. His chief strength, his relationship as adviser to the President, did not protect him from a series of ethical misjudgments and administrative oversights: His inept investigation of the Iran-contra scandal permitted Oliver North to shred bales of documents. He let a friend's Middle East pipeline project slip through the bureaucracy. He took part in two disastrous Supreme Court nominations - of the imperious Robert Bork and the second-string Douglas Ginsburg. Ironically, the Meese Justice Department failed in its challenge of the special prosecutor law, which was upheld by the Supreme Court last week, and under whose provisions Meese now claims vindication.

If there is not reason to boast of vindication among Meese partisans, neither is there cause for vindictiveness among his opponents.

The miscasting of Meese as attorney general was only part of a flawed management musical chairs that sent Don Regan into the White House as chief of staff and Adm. John Poindexter as national security adviser - the cast that brought us the Iran-contra scandal.

History is closing on the Reagan administration, in which Edwin Meese has played a significant role. Tax reform, a military buildup, a strong political challenge to the Democratic Congress - all posted in the Reagan era - will not be repealed by a Meese exit.

Law has no room for cronies. Impartial justice implies the absence of personal loyalties or agendas. The Meese experience should make this clear to the next president to pick a team.

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