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Meese Says Resigning Would be Admission of Guilt

May 19, 1988

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Attorney General Edwin Meese III is launching a counterattack against his critics and telling conservative senators he won’t resign in the absence of evidence of wrongdoing.

Meese’s private lawyers said Wednesday that a Senate subcommittee report is ″seriously wrong″ in accusing Meese of violating a White House policy by assisting scandal-plagued Wedtech Corp.

In addition, Meese’s counselor at the Justice Department, William Bradford Reynolds, claimed that subcommittee chairman Carl Levin of Michigan hadn’t given the panel’s members an opportunity to vote on the report.

In response, Levin said: ″The report was circulated to every member of the subcommittee for comment. ... Release of the report was approved by the subcommittee members.″

The report issued earlier this month says that then-White House counselor Meese and his deputy violated a White House policy barring contacts with procurement officials, resulting in favoritism toward Wedtech.

Meese’s private attorneys, Nathan Lewin and James Rocap, said the subcommittee report was incorrect because the White House policy permits contacts with procurement agencies when the White House has a legitimate interest in information about procurement matters.

President Reagan had campaigned in the South Bronx, N.Y., area where Wedtech was located and had expressed an interest in promoting jobs in the area.

Independent counsel James McKay, who has been conducting a criminal investigation of Meese’s involvement with Wedtech and other matters, is expected to issue a report in several weeks raising ethical questions about the attorney general’s behavior, sources familiar with the investigation have said.

Meese told seven conservative Republican senators on Wednesday that if he resigned now it would be an admission of guilt when there is no evidence he has done anything wrong, congressional sources said.

The attorney general made the comment after being asked by one of the conservative senators whether he had weighed the possibility of quitting, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Meese’s 90-minute, closed-door luncheon at the Capitol came two days after it was disclosed that the attorney general had fired his staunchly conservative chief spokesman, Terry Eastland, allegedly for not defending him aggressively enough.

After the meeting, Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., told reporters the subject of Meese’s future had come up ″peripherally.″ Helms added, ″I assume he’ll be attorney general for the rest of this year.″

The meeting was ″a good, candid, frank, amicable discussion about the operations of the Justice Department,″ said Christopher Simpson, press secretary for Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., who also attended the meeting.

″The best thing for all concerned is to wait to see the McKay report,″ added Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.

In related developments:

-Rep. William Ford, D-Mich., has written to the House and Senate Judiciary committees accusing Patrick S. Korten, Meese’s new chief spokesman, of making false statements while he was chief spokesman for the Office of Personnel Management, The Washington Post reported today.

In a letter obtained by the newspaper, Ford said he was stunned when Meese appointed Korten, who as OPM spokesman ″lost all credibility ... as a result of repeated instances of false and or misleading statements″ to the House Post Office and Civil Service committee which Ford chairs.

-Peter Flaherty, chairman of the Citizens for Reagan, a 100,000-member lobbying group, urged Meese to ″fight it out. ... My impression is that the attorney general is anxious to confront his critics and anyone who thinks Ed Meese is leaving soon is going to be disappointed.″

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