WASHINGTON — Shortly after quitting the White House in 1982 to become a lobbyist, Lyn Nofziger told then-presidential counselor Edwin Meese III that it "would be a blunder not to award" an Army contract to a New York-based firm he represented, according to a memo disclosed at Nofziger's conflict-of-interest trial Thursday.
The April 8 memo, central to one of four illegal lobbying counts against Nofziger, argued that the contract would be "a major first step" in President Reagan's "commitment to revitalize the South Bronx."
Welbilt Electronic Die Corp., later renamed Wedtech Corp., eventually obtained the $32-million engine contract after Nofziger lobbied Meese and other former White House colleagues in conjunction with his business partner, Mark A. Bragg. The firm subsequently slid into scandal and bankruptcy and is now defunct.
Got $42,000 Fee
Nofziger--paid $42,000 by Welbilt--is charged with violating a federal ethics law that prohibits a former government official from lobbying former colleagues on matters of "direct and substantial interest" to his former agency. Bragg, standing trial with Nofziger in federal court, is accused of aiding and abetting him on the Welbilt lobbying effort.
Prosecutors, countering defense claims that the lobbying was legal because the issues were minor to the White House, showed the jury another Nofziger memo, this one sent in late 1982 to Michael K. Deaver when he was deputy White House chief of staff.
"I understand the President is considering going up to the Bronx to present an award of some sort to the people at Welbilt," Nofziger wrote. "I think it would be a big plus for the President. . . . I certainly don't want some Democratic candidate for President standing where the President stood two years ago (during the 1980 presidential campaign) and charge that he has done nothing."
Nofziger added that Welbilt got the Army contract "thanks to a lot of hard work by a lot of people including (Meese deputy) Jim Jenkins and (Army general counsel) Del Spurlock and a few others."
Sought Letter of Intent
Nofziger wrote Jenkins in May, 1982, urging that the Army be asked to issue a letter of intent on the engine contract so that Welbilt could qualify for needed financing from the Small Business Administration.
But defense objections at least temporarily prevented prosecutors, headed by independent counsel James C. McKay, from entering the Nofziger letter into evidence.
Prosecutors also disclosed a 1981 memo from Nofziger to Elizabeth Hanford Dole when both were senior White House aides. The memo endorsed as "great" a proposal by California Latino leader Philip Sanchez that Reagan meet and have his picture taken with John Mariotta, president of Welbilt, who was widely heralded at the time for creating jobs in the blighted South Bronx. No mention was made of the firm's Army contract bid.
Continued as Adviser
Meanwhile, a witness testified that Nofziger continued as a close adviser to Reagan and top presidential aides even after he left his White House post to do lobbying and political consulting.
Edward J. Rollins, who succeeded Nofziger as White House political director and now heads his legal defense fund, said Nofziger continued to meet with Reagan for about 15 minutes every month.
Asked by McKay if there was any difference in the roles Nofziger played as White House aide and private lobbyist, Rollins quipped that "he didn't have to go to all the meetings," then added: "Obviously, he had equal value on the outside."