WASHINGTON — The Justice Department is investigating whether Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III violated federal conflict-of-interest laws in failing to disqualify himself from two criminal investigations of scandal-plagued Wedtech Corp., a special prosecutor disclosed today.
In a letter to the chairmen of the Senate and House judiciary committees, special prosecutor James McKay said an inquiry has been launched into Meese's activities that ultimately could result in the attorney general being included in McKay's own criminal investigation.
McKay is investigating former White House aide Lyn Nofziger's lobbying efforts on behalf of Wedtech, a Bronx defense contractor that is at the center of corruption probes by federal investigators and New York state prosecutors.
McKay also disclosed that he is assisting the Justice Department's public integrity section in its examination of Meese's activities.
"In response to a request from the (Justice Department's) criminal division, my office is sharing with the public integrity section any information developed by our investigation that may be relevant," said McKay's letter to Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) and Rep. Peter W. Rodino Jr. (D-N.J.).
The public integrity section in the Justice Department's criminal division investigates possible corruption involving federal, state and local officials.
White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater, asked to comment on the inquiry into Meese's relationship with Wedtech, told reporters, "That's a legal matter to be decided by the authorities."
"The decision on whether to seek an expansion of the (special prosecutor's) probe will be made by the deputy attorney general," Fitzwater said.
Question of Authority
In his letter to Congress, McKay said he does not believe he has authority currently to expand his probe to include Meese.
But he said the Justice Department's public integrity section is conducting an inquiry that could lead to a preliminary investigation by the department into whether an independent counsel should investigate Meese.
If the Justice Department asks McKay to assume responsibility for investigating the attorney general, "we would be prepared to undertake that assignment," McKay said in his letter.
The special prosecutor said the public integrity section's inquiry is under way "to determine whether information respecting Mr. Meese's relation to" Wedtech "and certain associates of the company is sufficient to constitute grounds for a preliminary investigation."
Wouldn't Be Involved
The judiciary chairmen had asked McKay to look into reports that Meese failed to excuse himself until April 8 from investigations of Wedtech that federal prosecutors in New York and Baltimore began last year. Meese would not be involved in a preliminary investigation if one were to be conducted.