Independent prosecutor James McKay announced Friday that "based on the evidence developed to date," he does not intend to ask a federal grand jury to indict Attorney General Edwin Meese in connection with an Iraqi pipeline venture.
McKay, releasing a brief statement to counter "recent media reports that an indictment is imminent," also said he did not intend to pursue criminal charges against Meese in connection with the "Baby Bells" controversy, including suggestions he owned stock in a telephone company at a time critical decisions were made on the AT&T breakup.McKay had earlier said that he had not turned up enough information to seek Meese's indictment in the Wedtech matter.
The prosecutor, however, emphasized that his nearly year-old investigation of Meese was continuing and he did not expect it to end before the end of April.
"If at the end of that period of time there remains insufficient evidence to warrant a prosecution as to these or any other matters, and if the grand jury and the office of independent counsel concur that further investigation is not warranted, the office of independent counsel will issue a report covering all the matters."
The statement was a boost for the embattled attorney general, who saw two key aides resign this week because of legal and ethical questions swirling about Meese.
Just before McKay's announcement Meese's No. 4 official, Solicitor General Charles Fried, said he would remain at the Justice Department, but officials confirmed he had also urged the attorney general to go.
Fried issued a brief statement, saying, "I have concluded that while I am able to lead the Office of the Solicitor General with integrity and effectiveness in its special responsibilities to the law, to the United States, and to the Supreme Court, I should continue to do."
At the same time, he ruled out accepting any other positions at the department, which this week lost the No. 2 official, Deputy Attorney General Arnold Burns, and the head of the criminal division, Assistant Attorney General William Weld, due to what they considered as Meese's inability to effectively run the department.
Meese is also attempting to fill the position of the No. 3 official, Associate Attorney General Stephen Trott, who is scheduled to head to California for a federal appeals court job.
"I will not accept any other positions in the Department of Justice," Fried said.
"As for the attorney general, I felt it was my duty to him and to the department to tell him clearly what course of action I thought he should follow," he said. "I did that Wednesday in a private conversation."
Officials confirmed reports that Fried, although choosing not to join the others in resigning, had advised Meese to step aside. The White House, however, has supported Meese throughout.
Fried's statement came amid continued calls for Meese to step aside in light of the resignations and a year-old independent prosecutor's probe.
At the same time, Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., a Meese backer on the Judiciary Committee paid a visit to the Justice Department to discuss the situation with the attorney general.
At a congressional hearing earlier Thursday, Thurmond turned aside calls for Meese's resignation, urging panel members to wait until McKay completes his work.
At the same time, Thurmond warned, "I will not countenance any corruption in any way, shape or form."
A Meese spokesman said Thurmond was concerned about developments, but declined to comment further on the session.
The attorney general, though shaken by the desertion of his two key aides and four others, has refused to resign but apparently halted any further exodus of officials from the department.