Scrutiny of Meese does not let up

In the next few weeks, Attorney General Edwin Meese III will continue to attract attention from investigators within the Justice Department, possibly at the Internal Revenue Service, and definitely on Capitol Hill. The Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) in the Justice Department is conducting an internal investigation into Mr. Meese's ethical conduct. On July 6, the public-interest group Common Cause urged the OPR to investigate Meese for possible ethical infractions. In a two-sentence response sent to Common Cause last Thursday, Michael Shaheen, who heads OPR, said ``We have initiated an inquiry into your complaint....''

OPR would likely be interested in Meese's actions while he owned stock in several regional telephone companies. The independent counsel report released Monday said that in two instances a judge and a jury would ``probably'' find that Meese broke conflict-of-interest laws. However, the independent counsel, James McKay, chose not to prosecute.

Any investigation would have to move at lightning speed to have an impact. Meese has said he will resign by early August, and once he leaves, OPR cannot touch him, according to a Justice Department spokesman.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) could become interested in the other violations that Meese allegedly committed. According to the McKay report, Meese under-reported capital gains on the sale of stock in his 1985 tax return. Based on public information in the report, the IRS could launch a civil examination and require Meese to pay the back taxes he still owes plus penalty and interest.

A remote possibility is that Mr. McKay will obtain new information from key people - such as Meese's friend E.Robert Wallach or former financial adviser W.Franklyn Chinn - before his term as independent counsel ends. McKay is keeping a staff at least through late November, when he must respond in the case against former White House aide Lyn Nofziger.

Currently Mr. Wallach and Mr. Chinn are under indictment in New York for their connection to Wedtech Corporation, and McKay is unlikely to get interviews with them. But if they settle their case, the case ends before December, or - highly unlikely - they simply decide to talk, McKay could resume his criminal investigation of Meese. Then on July 26, William Weld, who quit as head of the Criminal Division reportedly because he was frustrated with Meese's activities, is scheduled to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The line of questioning is likely to be unflattering to Meese.

Meese, who was to appear before the committee on July 29, has told the committee he will not testify because he will be in Los Angeles.

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