Meese Hurts Drive, Top Bush Aides Say : They Complain Attorney General’s Legal Woes Obscure Efforts to Discuss Key Issues
Two senior advisers to Vice President George Bush have gone on record publicly with complaints the campaign has whispered privately for weeks--that Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III is dragging down Republican hopes for keeping the White House in 1988.
In a newspaper interview published Friday, pollster/strategist Robert S. Teeter and campaign communication director and longtime staffer Peter B. Teeley both joined in saying Bush’s candidacy is suffering because of Meese, who is engulfed in controversy over assistance he provided friends in gaining government business.
“Meese is a liability. What a guy like Meese does is take away the opportunity to discuss the issues you really want to discuss,” Teeley was quoted as saying in the interview.
‘Rather Not Have Problem’
Teeter said: “All things considered, you would rather not have this problem going on right now.”
The interview was published in the Detroit News, hometown paper of the two, both members of Bush’s innermost circle of advisers.
Similar statements have been heard from behind the veil of anonymity in the Bush campaign for several weeks. This has provided the vice president room to stand publicly aside from the chorus seeking the resignation of one of President Reagan’s oldest and dearest political associates.
But this aloofness may be increasingly difficult for Bush to maintain now.
Word of the published remarks of his advisers rippled through the vice president’s campaign quickly Friday--first as he sat in a barn and chatted with farmers during a driving sleet storm in Idaho and then later as he spoke to an airport rally of supporters under cloudy skies here.
The vice president said he had not authorized either adviser to speak out about Meese. He refused a series of questions about their remarks.
Bush was asked by reporters in Billings: Has Meese become an albatross?
Cites Counsel’s Report
“An albatross? I don’t think so,” he replied. But then he noted a report is expected by the end of the month on the independent counsel’s investigation involving Meese.
“We’ll see what it says. It’s only a matter of a few days away,” he said.
An independent counsel has been investigating charges of influence peddling in the granting of a defense contract to Bronx, N.Y.-based Wedtech Corp. Meese helped friends affiliated with Wedtech land the contract.
Bush has consistently said Meese should not be forced out unless wrongdoing is proved. But at the same time, he has shown signs of irritation, saying he is “troubled” by the charges against the Cabinet official.
Additionally, the vice president has increased the amount of time he devotes in speeches and interviews to the whole subject of ethical public service. And he has also invited scrutiny of the values that have guided his own career.
“I’ve been examined every day, every way--sideways, up and down, inside out,” Bush repeated Friday.
Meese has become a staple in speeches by Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, the Democratic front-runner. Meese’s problems have become so notorious that Dukakis has found that he only needs to mention Meese’s name to draw laughter and hoots of derision from Democratic audiences.
Issue Clouds Bush Focus
It seemed self-evident Friday that Bush’s advisers were correct in one assessment--Meese continues to distract attention from issues of the vice president’s choosing.
Many of the questions to Bush on Friday bore in on Meese. What Bush had in mind, however, was some self-congratulations for the latest measure of economic health in the country--the decline in the unemployment rate to 5.4% nationally.
“What we want to do is keep the economic message going . . . until it goes even lower than that,” Bush said. “When I hear the political opponents going around talking about pink slips and disaster, it is flying in the face of some extraordinary economic progress.”