Former Attorney General Edwin Meese III violated federal ethics standards by acting at the request of a close friend to assist scandal-plagued Wedtech Corp. and a proposed $1 billion Middle East oil pipeline, a Justice Department report concluded Tuesday.
"There are three instances in which friendship" between Meese and longtime friend E. Robert Wallach "dictated government action," it said.The report by the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility also found that Meese violated the executive order on ethics and the Justice Department's own standards of conduct by failing to disclose the sale of stocks in his 1985 federal income tax return on a timely basis.
The report also said Meese violated ethics standards by participating in official matters involving the regional Bell Telephone companies while he held some $14,000 in telecommunications stock.
The report's findings on ethics questions are based in large measure on evidence gathered in a 14-month criminal investigation of Meese by an independent counsel. That probe did not address ethical questions and ended with a decision not to prosecute.
In response, Meese's lawyers called the findings "a travesty of justice."
At the White House, spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said that President Reagan believes "this report was unnecessary, partly because Mr. Meese has not been in the office for some time and partly because it was unwarranted."
Fitzwater said that Reagan still believes his longtime friend did nothing wrong. "That's the way he feels. I talked to him and I know whereof I speak," the spokesman said of the president.
The report concluded that Meese engaged in "conduct which should not be tolerated of any government employee, especially not the attorney general."
If Meese were still attorney general, "we would recommend (to the next ranking department official) that the president take disciplinary action," it said.
A department statement said no further action against Meese is warranted because he is no longer a government employee.
"As a direct result of the preferential, improper efforts of Meese and his staff, the Army" awarded a $32 million engine-building contract to Wedtech in 1982 while Meese was counselor to President Reagan, the report said.
The next year, it said, "Meese and his staff injected themselves as a direct result of the friendship between Wallach and Meese" into a financial problem Wedtech was having with the Commerce Department's Economic Development Administration.
At the urging of Wallach, Meese tried to help clear up the problem Wedtech was having by making a phone call to then-Commerce Secretary Malcolm Baldrige, the report said. Meese's intervention is "precisely" the type of activity that is prohibited by a federal executive order spelling out ethical standards for federal employees, it said.