Reagan Said to Share Justice Objections to Special Prosecutor Act
Jun. 17, 1987
WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Reagan believes the work of Iran-Contra investigator Lawrence E. Walsh should proceed but has not decided whether he would sign legislation renewing the law that made Walsh's appointment possible, Reagan's top spokesman said Wednesday.
Marlin Fitzwater said White House officials felt some language in a Justice Department letter criticizing the law, the Ethics in Government Act of 1978, was ''intemperate and contentious and should be changed.''
However, Fitzwater said that while ''we wouldn't have chosen the language, we're in agreement with the basic concerns in the letter.''
Fitzwater noted that Reagan had publicly sought the appointment of an independent counsel on the Iran-Contra matter, and he said Reagan ''supports the work ... wants to see it continued through to its normal conclusion.''
Questions arose about Reagan's views after a letter, and subsequent news conference, in which Assistant Attorney General John Bolton delivered a scathing attack on the act, which expires next January unless re-authorized by Congress and signed by the president.
Bolton criticized Walsh's investigation as overly expensive, and he also criticized two other independent counsels, Whitney North Seymour and Alexia Morrison, for alleged abuses of their authority.
The principal Justice Department objection to continuance of the 1978 law involves a contention that it violates a fundamental constitutional dictate that federal prosecutors are accountable to the president.
The law exempts persons who are appointed to investigate alleged wrongdoing by government officials. These independent counsels are appointed by a special three-judge court in the District of Columbia.
While Fitzwater said Reagan supports Walsh's investigation and intends to cooperate with it, he also said that, ''in terms of the re-authorization, the president's position hasn't been established yet. The president hasn't taken a position on it yet.''
Bolton outlined a position he said had been cleared with Attorney General Edwin Meese III, himself the subject of an independent counsel's investigation in connection with the scandal-plagued Wedtech Corp.
There are serious constitutional problems with the act, Bolton said, adding that legislation roposed by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., won't solve them. But Bolton also said the government would continue to fund the currently operating independent counsels, regardless of the fate of pending legislation.
Fitzwater repeatedly declined to say what language in Bolton's letter was considered objectionable. Nor would he say what effort, if any, was made by the White House to get the letter revised.
''The letter represents the administration's point of view and has the support of the White House,'' he said. ''It was sent to us for review. ... We commented that we thought some of the language was intemperate and contentious and should be changed.''
''It was not changed, and I can't say why it wasn't,'' he said.
The letter said ''recent developments have confirmed our constitutional concerns about the dangers inherent in the operation of the independent counsel statute, and have deepened our own and the public's misgivings about whether this law can in fact fulfill the expectations of its supporters in 1978.''
Bolton also told a news conference the independent counsels are ''utterly without review, utterly without supervision; nothing is too trivial for these people to investigate.''
Levin retorted that the Justice Department ''would have us return to the days of Watergate and Nixon's Saturday night massacre; we don't want to go to the brink again.'' That was a reference to President Nixon's desire to fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox in October 1973. Attorney General Elliot Richardson resigned rather than oust Cox; William Ruckelshaus was dismissed and the No. 3 man in the Justice Department, Robert Bork, did the deed.
Two former Reagan administration figures, Oliver L. North and Michael K. Deaver, have mounted court challenges to the constitutionality of the law.
Fitzwater said Justice's letter was written to respond to a request from Congress and wasn't intended to buttress the challenges being mounted separately by Deaver and North.
Bolton complained to reporters that Walsh had run up excessive expenses. The department says he's spent $1.3 million in six months.
Walsh's probe, which employs 25 lawyers paid $70,000 a year, is in the early stages of what is expected to be a lengthy investigation.