Former Pennsylvania Gov. Richard L. Thornburgh, picked by President Reagan to head the troubled Justice Department, pledged today to "follow the evidence wherever it may lead" in the matter of outgoing Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III.
Thornburgh declined to answer questions about Meese in any detail, however, in an appearance in the White House briefing room with Reagan, who announced the nomination and urged swift confirmation by the Senate. The Administration will be in office only six more months.
Asked if he wanted to be attorney general "in the tradition of" his predecessor, Thornburgh replied, "I'll be attorney general in the tradition of Dick Thornburgh."
White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said Thornburgh's nomination will be sent to the Senate during the week of July 25, when Congress will be back from a weeklong recess that begins Friday so that members can attend the Democratic National Convention.
Thornburgh, 55, had been mentioned as a possible running mate for Vice President George Bush, the likely Republican presidential nominee.
On the question of whether Thornburgh will remain as attorney general if Bush is elected President, Bush spokesman Stephen Hart said, "I think it's premature to even speculate about that."
Thornburgh was asked whether he expects to remain after January in the event of a Bush victory. "I obviously can't speak for the vice president," he replied. "But I think that law enforcement is a 24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week proposition. And whether you're on the job for six days or six months or six years, it is a full-time effort. . . ."
Questioned on Meese
Meese, whose affairs have been under investigation by independent counsel James McKay, announced his resignation last week after declaring himself vindicated.
Among the matters McKay investigated were Meese's assistance to Wedtech, a Bronx, N.Y., defense contractor under investigation for payoffs to win government contracts; Meese's actions in connection with a proposed $1-billion Iraqi oil pipeline project, and whether he took actions favorable to regional Bell telephone companies at a time that he held $14,000 in telephone stock.
When asked whether he planned to look into the Meese matter, Thornburgh said, "I really can't answer any substantive questions at this time."
"My intention, and this is in any area, is to follow the evidence wherever it may lead," he said. "And not knowing what that evidence is, I can't give you a prediction."
Thornburgh profile, Page 14.