Attorney general nominee Richard L. Thornburgh Friday denied at his confirmation hearing that he was involved in withholding from Congress a 1975 report detailing alleged drug trafficking by Panamanian officials.
There was sharp questioning about the report by several Senate Judiciary Committee members at a generally friendly hearing in which the former Pennsylvania governor was widely praised as the choice to succeed Edwin Meese III.A report in the Wall Street Journal said Thornburgh participated in withholding the Justice Department report while serving as chief of the department's criminal division under President Ford. The department report was said to focus on narcotics trafficking by military authorities in Panama.
But the nominee denied involvement.
"Any decision with respect to what would be forthcoming to Congress would be the decision of the attorney general." Thornburgh said.
"I made no such decision. It was not my province to make that type of decision," he said.
Several senators said they wanted to see the Justice Department report for themselves, and Thornburgh said he would try to obtain it for the panel.
Thornburgh said the war on drugs would be his top priority if he is confirmed by the Senate as attorney general.
"Clearly, in this nation today, law enforcement officials have to regard the scourge of narcotics and dangerous drugs as public enemy No. 1," he said."
Only three witnesses were called to testify at the hearing, and they were present only to introduce and praise the former Pennsylvania governor. They were Sens. John Heinz and Arlen Specter, both R-Pa., and Rep. William Clinger, R-Pa.
Democrats at the hearing drew sharp contrasts between Thornburgh and Meese.
In a reference to Meese, Sen. Howard Metzenbaum, D-Ohio, said, "Lesson one. A president should not appoint a close friend and political crony to be attorney general." With respect to Thornburgh, he said, "the indications are that the president has made a wise choice."
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said that "From everything I have seen so far, the president's decision to nominate you was guided by your competence, not ideology or loyalty. That is how it should be."