WASHINGTON — A White House spokesman said today the wife of Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III had "every right" to write a letter to a federal judge in which she used her husband's name in seeking leniency for a congressman's son convicted of tax fraud.
"She's a citizen and she's free to express herself and use any name she wants to," presidential spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said. "Mrs. Meese had every right to write that letter."
The attorney general "did not know about it" until after the letter was sent, Justice Department spokesman Terry Eastland said Thursday evening.
The convict, Joe S. Duncan, was a friend of Ursula Meese's niece and the attorney general had met him "a few times," Eastland said.
Meese Didn't Have Role
Meese did know that the niece was seeing Duncan, he said, and "did not have any part in the letter" to Judge R. Allan Edgar of Chattanooga, Tenn.
The New York Times, which reported on the letter in today's editions, said the one-page letter asked that the son of Rep. John J. Duncan (R-Tenn.) be given "very favorable consideration."
"My husband, Ed, and I consider Mr. Duncan to be an outstanding, conscientious and sensitive young man," Ursula Meese wrote in the June 17 letter, according to the newspaper.
"He is a man who shows a great deal of integrity and a person we personally respect and admire, particularly in his handling of these long drawn-out court proceedings," the newspaper quoted the letter as saying.
Eastland said he didn't know what Meese's reaction was when he was told later about the letter, but the newspaper quoted his wife as saying that he raised no objection to it.
"I wasn't writing as the wife of the attorney general," she told the newspaper. "I am an individual in my own right. I thought what I did was natural and didn't give it a second thought."
Duncan, who was convicted last May of filing a false tax return, was sentenced by Edgar in August to three years in prison, all but six months of it suspended, a $3,000 fine and 400 hours of community service.
The Justice Department, in court papers last July, had recommended a prison sentence of three years and a "substantial" fine of up to a maximum of $100,000.
Edgar, who was nominated to the bench in April, 1986, told the newspaper through a spokesman that he would not discuss the case.