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Digging Into Deaver

A wondrous consistency of this variable world is Ronald Reagan’s mind when it becomes fixed on an opinion. For example, the President refused for years to accept the notion that industrial pollution had anything to do with acid rain.

But a magical transformation occurred in March when the President embraced a U.S.-Canadian report calling for a $5 billion investment to reduce acid rain through the cleanup of electric power plant emissions.

Now, it seems, the shift may not have been magic, but the possible result of skillful maneuvering by Michael K. Deaver, the President’s former deputy chief of staff.

The day Deaver left the White House last May he became one of Washington’s most prominent lobbyists. At the rate of $105,000 a year, one of his clients was the government of Canada, frustrated by Reagan’s refusal to join the fight against acid rain.

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Deaver claims to know nothing about acid rain. That is difficult to accept when a General Accounting Office official says Deaver participated in at least 15 meetings on acid rain leading up to Reagan’s March summit with Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. His interest in the subject followed him to the Canadian payroll, including attendance at a breakfast involving U.S. and Canadian discussions of the proposed report. The GAO says Deaver’s activities on both sides of the fence appear to have violated at least three federal conflict-of-interest laws. James F. Hinchman, GAO deputy counsel, joined others, including Deaver, in calling for a complete, formal investigation.

Why Deaver’s keenness on acid rain? A Deaver supporter says he was merely working to protect Reagan and to guarantee an amicable summit with Canada. That’s possible. The GAO found no support for rumors that Deaver might have discussed a lobbying contract with Canada while still in the White House. But rumors will persist.

Deaver’s work for Canada so soon after leaving the White House raises precisely the sorts of questions the ethics law was designed to prevent. Deaver insists he does not trade, as a lobbyist, on inside information gained while in the White House. Rather, his expertise is in how to “strategize” for people who want things done in Washington. That’s another word for greasing the skids. And the law was designed to prevent that, too, in cases like Deaver’s.

The Justice Department should refer the matter to the courts with dispatch so that a special counsel may be appointed to determine if, as the President suggests with a wave of the hand, that the whole affair is “ridiculous.”


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