The Justice Department’s chief internal investigator has ended a three-month probe of former Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III and has written a highly critical assessment of Meese’s ethical conduct during his tenure.
No details could be learned about the sensitive report by Michael E. Shaheen Jr., the department’s counsel for professional responsibility, although it is known to be a harsh review of Meese’s actions. Shaheen opened his investigation after independent counsel James C. McKay concluded in his own report that Meese “probably” had committed four violations of federal conflict-of-interest and tax laws.
The report was completed several days ago, but Justice Department officials said it has not yet been sent to Atty. Gen. Dick Thornburgh. Officials denied that the delay had anything to do with the election, saying it was held up because of “legal questions.”
Robert S. Ross Jr., Thornburgh’s executive assistant, declined to detail the questions involving the report but said that they could affect other legal cases. Ross, who forwarded the legal questions to the department’s criminal division and various U.S. attorneys, said there also were questions about how the report should be released. He said he believes all the questions will be resolved in a matter of weeks.
One question raised by Shaheen’s report is understood to have been whether its release now might affect the prosecution early next year of Meese’s long-time friend, E. Robert Wallach.
Wallach, a former law school classmate of Meese, is facing trial next January on charges of defrauding the scandal-plagued Wedtech Corp. He is accused of accepting money from Wedtech to influence Meese to help the now-defunct New York firm get government defense contracts.
It was not clear why any findings by Shaheen would be more likely to affect the criminal case against Wallach than the voluminous report issued by McKay.
Meese, saying he had been cleared of any wrongdoing, resigned in August after McKay’s report. Although McKay did not seek criminal charges, Meese and his lawyers sharply disputed the independent counsel’s findings.
Shaheen’s investigation is the final official inquiry into Meese’s controversial personal actions as attorney general.
In September, the executive branch’s Office of Government Ethics accused Meese of undermining the public’s confidence in the integrity of government by allowing his name and office to be used by Wallach and by his handling of his taxes and financial disclosures.
Shaheen’s report is expected to be more detailed, examining Meese’s actions in light of department regulations on ethical conduct. Shaheen’s powers range from asking for a reopening of the criminal investigation of Meese to officially censuring him.
In another development Wednesday, it was learned that Thornburgh’s anticipated order to rescind Meese’s controversial decision to require independent counsel investigations of members of Congress will not be issued until talks with the new Administration.
After taking office in August, Thornburgh voiced reservations about Meese’s order, underscoring his longstanding concern about permitting “any proliferation” of outside prosecutors.
Ross said that Thornburgh was “uncomfortable with the (Meese) order and the concept” of creating additional independent counsel. But he said the department feared that action to rescind the order at this time would be viewed as “a political comment” against Meese. “That was something we didn’t want to happen,” he said.