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Closing Statements Presented in Lobbying Trial : Nofziger Misdeeds Held 'Overwhelming'

February 10, 1988|PAUL HOUSTON | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Independent counsel James C. McKay, in his closing argument to the jury, declared Tuesday that there is "overwhelming" evidence that lobbying by former White House aide Lyn Nofziger broke a federal law meant to "prevent people from coming out of the White House and attempting to cash in on their influence."

Nofziger was a "man to be reckoned with" in his lobbying of former White House colleagues, McKay said, because he was "indisputably a close friend and powerful adviser to people in the Administration, including the President of the United States."

McKay noted that Nofziger was paid $90,000 by a labor union and $75,000 by an aircraft firm to make allegedly forbidden contacts at the White House after he resigned in 1982 as President Reagan's political director. Nofziger also received $350,000 in stock from Wedtech Corp. after providing similar help on an Army contract for the scandal-torn firm.

Not of 'Direct Interest'

In response to McKay, defense attorney E. Lawrence Barcella vigorously maintained that Nofziger's lobbying was not covered by the federal Ethics in Government Act because the issues were not of "direct and substantial interest" to the White House.

He said that Nofziger left government service not to cash in on his connections but to take "a better-paying job . . . to provide retirement money for his wife and family."

If such activity were deemed illegal, Barcella told jurors in a federal courtroom, then "you had better get a real big net and throw it high, wide and far because there isn't anything wrong with that."

McKay, getting in the last word before the case goes to the jury today, shot back that the pressure applied by Nofziger to then-presidential counselor Edwin Meese III and other former White House colleagues had indeed violated the law.

'That's the Law'

"Like it or not, that's the law," said the independent counsel, who was appointed under provisions of the 1978 ethics act. "It's not up to us to say if it's a good or a bad law."

Nofziger is the first person tried under the statute, which prohibits former high government officials from lobbying ex-colleagues for one year on matters of direct and substantial interest to their former agencies. Michael K. Deaver, who also left the Reagan White House to become a lobbyist, was convicted last year of perjury for lying about his lobbying activities.

The closing arguments Tuesday focused on the crucial issue of whether the White House had a direct and substantial interest in matters lobbied by Nofziger at the time he brought them up--or whether Nofziger simply created such an interest, which apparently would have been permissible under the law.

McKay contended that a 1980 campaign promise by Reagan to bring jobs to the blighted South Bronx, N.Y., provided the basis for major White House interest in awarding the $32-million engine contract to Wedtech over Army objections.

Campaign Pledge on Sailors

Similarly, McKay said that another 1980 campaign pledge, to expand use of civilian sailors on Navy ships, established White House interest in Nofziger's efforts to have the promise implemented on behalf of a maritime union.

Barcella retorted that such interest was "nothing more than a small blip on the radar screen." He ridiculed prosecutors for "creating a world where a campaign promise becomes gospel."

The two sides also battled furiously over whether a key 1982 letter, purportedly from Nofziger to a Meese deputy, was forged by another Wedtech lobbyist. After McKay displayed a huge photographic blowup of the letter to bolster his argument, Barcella dramatically slapped on his lectern a small sign reading "stroke"--suggesting to jurors that Nofziger was recovering from a stroke at the time and could not have signed, or known about, the letter.

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