Nofziger, Partner Plead Not Guilty : Trial of Ex-Reagan Aide on Lobbying Counts Set for Nov. 16
Lyn Nofziger, President Reagan’s former political director and long-time close aide, pleaded not guilty Thursday to six charges of illegal lobbying and was given a trial date of Nov. 16.
Nofziger, who was indicted last week on charges of violating the Ethics in Government Act, stood silently before U.S. District Judge Thomas A. Flannery while his attorney, Paul L. Perito, entered the pleas on his behalf. He was allowed to remain free on his own recognizance.
Mark A. Bragg, Nofziger’s partner in a Washington public relations firm that the two men established after Nofziger left the White House in 1982, pleaded not guilty to one count of aiding and abetting one of the allegedly illegal contacts.
Ban on Lobbying
Nofziger is charged with violating a 12-month ban on lobbying former government colleagues on any matter and, in representing the scandal-ridden Wedtech Corp. of New York, with violating a lifetime ban on lobbying government officials on matters in which he “personally and substantially” had been involved during his White House service.
On the steps of the U.S. Courthouse, a relaxed and smiling Nofziger told reporters after the session that he is “absolutely convinced” of his innocence and said that he never intended to violate federal prohibitions on his conduct after leaving government service.
“This kind of thing just isn’t something anybody would go out and do deliberately,” he said.
The usually irreverent Nofziger, wearing his trademark unbuttoned collar, added: “I’m sorry to have wasted the government’s money on this kind of situation, where they literally destroy a person’s business.”
‘Ruined My Good Name’
He said last week that the five-month investigation by independent counsel James C. McKay has “systematically ruined my good name, my business and my finances.”
Nofziger, 63, is the first Reagan appointee to be charged solely with violating the lobbying prohibitions under the 1978 ethics law. A former colleague, Michael K. Deaver, who was deputy White House chief of staff until May, 1985, was investigated for the same alleged offenses by another independent counsel.
Deaver Trial Delayed
Deaver was indicted last March on charges of lying about his lobbying activities, rather than for violating the ethics act itself. His trial, which began last week with the closed screening of prospective jurors, was delayed until Oct. 19 after the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the trial judge may not screen jurors in private.
Nofziger’s indictment said that Wedtech, a small tool-and-die company that became a defense contractor, had lobbied him when he was in the White House in 1981 and that he had decided to promote it for political reasons.
Wedtech then was a private firm owned by a Puerto Rican immigrant in the South Bronx, and officials said the Administration was eager to show that it understood the needs of minority businessmen.
Nofziger worked in the White House from January, 1981, to January, 1982. Bragg never has worked for the government.
Attorney Perito told Judge Flannery that, before Nofziger’s trial, he would be filing “a series of motions” challenging the indictment. Those are expected to include an attack on the constitutional authority of McKay to prosecute Nofziger, a move that other defendants have made against independent counsels, so far unsuccessfully.
The indictment said Nofziger’s illegal lobbying contacts were mainly on behalf of Wedtech but also on behalf of Fairchild Industries, another defense contractor, and the National Marine Engineers Beneficial Assn.
Grand jurors charged that Nofziger, while representing Wedtech, illegally lobbied Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III when Meese was White House counselor; Meese’s deputy at the time, James E. Jenkins; former Army Secretary John Marsh Jr. and former Small Business Administration chief James C. Sanders.
Could Face 12 Years
If convicted on all six counts, Nofziger would face maximum punishment of 12 years in prison and $60,000 in fines. Bragg would be subject, on conviction, to a two-year term and a maximum $10,000 fine.
Nineteen persons have been indicted or pleaded guilty in the Wedtech scandal, mainly to charges of making or receiving illegal payments to help the company obtain no-bid government contracts reserved for minority-owned businesses.