Both sides in the Wedtech corruption trial found a rare point of agreement when a federal prosecutor shocked the courtroom by calling his boss, outgoing U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese, "a sleaze."
The Justice Department response Thursday was swift and angry in calling for an in-house investigation. Meese's lawyer branded the remark as "beneath contempt."Assistant U.S. Attorney Edward J. Little stunned spectators at the racketeering trial of Rep. Mario Biaggi, D-N.Y., and six others Thursday when he brought up the sleaze factor, adding in effect, that it didn't matter.
"These defendants can't get out of this case by pointing fingers at Meese. So what? Who cares? That's got nothing to do with what happened in this courtroom," said Little.
Biaggi and his co-defendants are charged with turning Wedtech Corp., a now-bankrupt defense contractor, into a racketeering enterprise that paid millions of dollars in bribes for government contracts and other favors.
The defense has maintained during the four-month trial that corrupt Wedtech executives who testified for the government had links to White House insiders like Meese and did not need to bribe Biaggi.
The soft-spoken Little said the answer to "this Meese defense" was, "Meese was a sleaze, too, also, in addition to these people." He also denied defense hints that prosecutors were shielding "Ed Meese, our boss."
Little's remarks came near the end of his final argument to the federal jury in Manhattan.
Dominic Amorosa, the first defense attorney to sum up, said he was glad the government "has conceded what we have been saying: Meese is a sleaze, indeed he is and indeed he was."
Final defense arguments were expected to continue into next week.
Meese attorney Nathan Lewin said Little's comment was "beneath contempt. It's ridiculous to make a statement like that. To - even as a matter of prosecution strategy - group the attorney general with these people is beneath contempt."
In Washington, Justice Department spokesman Patrick Korten said, "We have asked the U.S. attorney's office in New York to check to see whether Mr. Little is quoted accurately. If such remarks were made, we would consider them to be inappropriate, unprofessional and, not least, flatly wrong."
Korten declined to comment on whether Little might be subject to disciplinary action, saying, "The first thing we want to do is determine precisely what he said."