WASHINGTON — President Reagan threw his weight--and his arms--around his embattled attorney general today, giving Edwin Meese III a bear hug in front of the White House press corps to prove his support.
Reagan, announcing Judge Anthony M. Kennedy as his third nominee for the present Supreme Court vacancy, first snapped at reporters who questioned the wisdom of retaining Meese as the nation's chief law enforcement officer in light of the two earlier nomination snafus and mounting criticism.
Then in an uncharacteristic gesture that caught reporters and Meese by surprise, Reagan threw both arms around the attorney general, his longtime friend, and hugged him tightly. The President kept his left arm around Meese's shoulders as they walked from the White House press room.
The gesture came after Reagan was clearly angered when asked if Meese had "blown it" in the nomination of federal appeals Judge Douglas H. Ginsburg, who withdrew after revelations that he had smoked marijuana.
All involved, including Meese, conceded that they never asked that question.
"He didn't blow the last one," Reagan snapped. "We're talking the last time about a man who had been confirmed and who had been investigated four times for positions in government."
Prior Checks Recounted
The FBI conducted background investigations of Ginsburg when he was being considered for jobs at the Office of Management and Budget, the Justice Department and, just last year, for the appellate bench--and at no time did the FBI ask him if he had ever used drugs.
Contrite on Remark
In another reaction today, Reagan was contrite for his recent confrontational remark that he would send the Senate a nominee whom it would object to as much as it had in rejecting Judge Robert H. Bork.
After Bork was rejected and before Ginsburg was nominated, Reagan said at a Republican dinner that he would nominate somebody the Senate would find as objectionable as Bork.
When he was asked today Reagan said, "Maybe it's time I did answer on that, where that was said and why.
"I was at a straight party organization affair, a dinner, and when I finished my remarks, which were partisan, a woman down in front . . . just called out above all the noise of the room, 'What about Judge Bork.' And she got great applause for saying that.
"And then, the questions came, 'Was I going to give in and try to please certain elements in the Senate?' and I made that intended-to-be-facetious answer. And so as I say sometimes, you make a facetious remark and somebody takes it seriously and you wish you never said it, and that's one for me."