Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III said today that the Justice Department will seek dismissal of a lawsuit that challenges the law under which special prosecutor Lawrence E. Walsh was appointed to investigate the Iran- contra scandal.
Meese told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the department will join Walsh in seeking dismissal of the suit by lawyers for Lt. Col. Oliver L. North, the former National Security Council staffer who is one of the central figures in the investigation.
However, the attorney general said discussions are still under way on whether to fully support the special prosecutor's arguments that Walsh is acting with full constitutional authority.
Doubts About Law
Justice Department officials for years have had doubts about the constitutionality of the law appointing special prosecutors, also known as independent counsels.
In addition, Meese left open the question of whether the department will challenge a similar lawsuit filed by former White House aide Michael K. Deaver, who is the target of another special prosecutor.
The attorney general's comments came amid growing congressional criticism of the Justice Department for not joining Walsh earlier this week in his effort to protect his investigation from North's lawsuit. A number of congressmen say the department's reluctance to join Walsh is undermining the criminal investigation of the Iran-contra scandal.
North's suit raises objections under the separation of powers doctrine to Walsh's appointment.
Hearing Set for Monday
At a hearing, Meese did say that the department "will seek dismissal" of the suit, but he added that officials had "not decided whether to take the same legal position" as Walsh in the case. Friday is the deadline for filing objections. A hearing is set for Monday on Walsh's motion to have the suit thrown out of court.
Offering limited support to Walsh would leave open the possibility that the Justice Department could become involved at a later time in bringing up longstanding constitutional questions it has about the law.
The Judiciary Committee chairman, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), said after the hearing that his impression of Meese's remarks was that the Justice Department will choose narrow grounds to challenge the North lawsuit and will not address the constitutional questions now.
"That does not allay my concerns," Biden said, referring to the possibility of a narrow challenge by the department.