Atty. Gen. Dick Thornburgh, whose predecessor was under criminal investigation for 14 months, called on Justice Department officials under him today to develop proposals that will “aid our employees in maintaining the highest ethical standards.”
In his first major speech to department employees since taking over from Edwin Meese III in August, Thornburgh said he has asked Deputy Atty. Gen. Harold Christensen to gather the views of all department managers on ethical standards.
Thornburgh said that among the questions that should be addressed are: “How to avoid any appearance of personal and financial conflict of interest? How to deal with lapses in behavior, whether job-related or not? How should we properly regulate interaction between employees and outside groups? What ‘perks’ are proper and which are out of bounds?”
“Top leadership must give forth clear and explicit signals, lest any confusion or uncertainty exist over what is and is not permissible conduct,” Thornburgh said.
“To do otherwise allows informal and potentially subversive ‘codes of conduct’ to be transmitted with a wink and a nod, and encourages an inferior ethical system based on ‘going along to get along’ or on the notion that ‘everybody’s doing it,’ ” he added.
Thornburgh did not mention Meese by name and the new attorney general brought up the issue of ethics in the context of a new Associated Press-Media General poll showing that 7 out of 10 Americans think that illegal payoffs are common in the federal government.
Half of those polled said the federal government is not honest overall.
Meese came under criminal investigation in May, 1987, because of his dealings with longtime friend E. Robert Wallach in connection with scandal-plagued Wedtech Corp., a South Bronx, N.Y., defense contractor whose top executives admitted making payoffs to numerous public officials in exchange for assistance in obtaining federal contracts.
The probe culminated in July with independent counsel James C. McKay deciding not to seek an indictment but declaring publicly that Meese had probably broken conflict-of-interest laws and tax laws.