!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News
Profile: Edwin Meese
Positions that Edwin Meese has held:
- Attorney General (1985-1988)
Edwin Meese was a participant or observer in the following events:
The National Program Office (NPO), which is responsible for the highly classified Continuity of Government program, establishes a secret line of presidential succession for certain “narrowly defined” emergency situations. According to the traditional legal line of succession, should the president of the United States be killed or incapacitated, he is to be replaced by the vice president, followed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, then by the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, then each cabinet member from the Secretary of State down. The alternative succession plan developed by the NPO, known officially as the Presidential Successor Support System, or “PS cubed,” would suspend these traditional rules and allow a small group of officials to appoint a new government. A source with knowledge of the plan says it would “suspend that natural succession and these individuals would have the right to appoint, virtually appoint, a new government.” The program, according to author James Mann, calls for “setting aside the legal rules of presidential succession in some circumstances, in favor of a secret procedure for putting in place a new ‘president’ and his staff.” The idea is to “concentrate on speed, to preserve ‘continuity of government,’ and to avoid cumbersome procedures; the speaker of the House, the president pro tempore of the Senate, and the rest of Congress would play a greatly diminished role.” The alternative succession plan allows the presidency, the vice presidency, and each cabinet position to be filled by individuals from both inside and outside the active government. In 1991, CNN will list the names of several people that may assume power should the plan be put into action, including Dick Cheney, Howard Baker, Richard Helms, Jeane Kirkpatrick, James Schlesinger, Edwin Meese, Dick Thornburgh, and Tip O’Neill. Some participants say the alternative succession plan is absolutely necessary to ensure the survival of the federal government, but others argue the secrecy of the program undermines its credibility. “If no one knows in advance what the line of succession is meant to be,” says a constitutional scholar from Duke University, “then almost by hypothesis no one will have any reason to believe that those who claim to be exercising that authority in fact possess it.” [CNN Special Assignment, 11/17/1991; Atlantic Monthly, 3/2004]
Members of the Reagan administration run a secret shadow government that operates outside of official channels and circumvents Congressional oversight. The Miami Herald reports in July 1987: “Some of President Reagan’s top advisers have operated a virtual parallel government outside the traditional cabinet departments and agencies almost from the day Reagan took office, Congressional investigators and administration officials have concluded.” Figures involved in the secret structure include Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, National Security Adviser William Clark, CIA Director William Casey, and Attorney General Edwin Meese. Secret contacts throughout the government act on the advisers’ behalf, but do not officially report to them. The group is reportedly involved in arming the Nicaraguan rebels, the leaking of information to news agencies for propaganda purposes, the drafting of martial law plans for national emergencies, and the monitoring of US citizens considered potential security risks. The secret parallel government is tied to the highly classified Continuity of Government (COG) program, originally designed to keep the government functioning in times of disaster. From 1983 to 1986, North reportedly leads the parallel structure from his office in the Old Executive Office Building across from the White House. Sources tell the Miami Herald that North’s influence within the shadow government is so great that he can alter the orbits of surveillance satellites to monitor Soviet activity, launch spy aircraft over Cuba and Nicaragua, and “become involved in sensitive domestic activities,” which apparently include monitoring US citizens with sophisticated surveillance software (see 1980s). The existence of the secret structure is uncovered during investigations into the Iran-Contra affair, but the details of the shadow government are never fully disclosed. During the hearings, Representative Jack Brooks (D-TX) is prevented from questioning North regarding his involvement (see 1987). In a secret memo to the chairmen of the Iran-Contra committee, Arthur Liman, chief counsel to the panel, writes that behind the arms scandal is a “whole secret government-within-a-government, operated from the [Executive Office Building] by a lieutenant colonel, with its own army, air force, diplomatic agents, intelligence operatives, and appropriations capacity.” Some officials interviewed by the Miami Herald believe the group of advisers first formed during the late stages of Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign (see October 1980). [Miami Herald, 7/5/1987]
Edwin Meese, Counsellor to President Ronald Reagan, praises the PROMIS application at a gathering of prosecutors. He calls it “one of the greatest opportunities for [law enforcement] success in the future.” PROMIS is a database search system to help prosecutors find information about cases and people involved in them. [Wired News, 3/1993]
Congress passes the Competition in Contracting Act. President Reagan signs the bill but issues a signing statement instructing the executive branch that a portion of the bill is unconstitutional, and directs agencies not to obey the law created by that section. A losing bidder who would have won a contract under that portion of the bill files a lawsuit, and a federal judge rules that the Reagan administration has no choice but to follow the entirety of the law. Attorney General Edwin Meese insists that the executive branch has the inherent power to interpret the Constitution as it sees fit, and declares the administration will not obey the judge’s ruling. An appeals court upholds the judge’s ruling and criticizes the Reagan administration for trying to seize a sort of line-item veto power without going through Congress. The House Judiciary Committee votes to cut off funding for Meese’s office unless the White House obeys the court rulings, and Meese withdraws his objections. [Savage, 2007, pp. 231-232]
According to former Reagan Justice Department official Terry Eastland, writing in his 1992 book Energy in the Executive, the process of selecting Antonin Scalia as a Supreme Court Justice begins now, well before anyone knows there will be a vacancy for him. Attorney General Edwin Meese asks his assistant attorney general, William Bradford Reynolds, to advise him in preparing a nominee, “just in case.” Reynolds assembles a team of Justice Department officials, who examine about twenty possible choices, mostly federal judges, focusing primarily on conservative judicial philosophy. Two individuals stand out: Robert Bork and Scalia. Eastland writes, “Neither was ranked over the other; both were regarded as the best available, most well-qualified exponents of Reagan’s judicial philosophy.” Both are seen as powerful and influential legal figures. When Chief Justice Warren Burger announces his decision to retire from the bench, Reynolds advises Meese to choose Justice William Rehnquist to replace Burger as Chief Justice (see September 26, 1986), and to choose either Bork or Scalia to replace Rehnquist. Reagan makes the final decision: Scalia. [Dean, 2007, pp. 133]
Several current and former top US officials—including Attorney General Edwin Meese; National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane; former Secretary of Energy, Secretary of Defense, and Director of the CIA James Schlesinger; and former Secretary of Interior; national security adviser, and deputy secretary of state Judge William B. Clark—attempt to make arrangements that will provide security and insurance for the proposed Iraq-Jordan Aqaba pipeline in order to obtain Iraqi approval for the project. They go to extraordinary lengths to satisfy the preconditions Iraq has set for the pipeline, including bribing Israeli Labor officials in exchange for assurances that Israel would not attack the pipeline and pushing the US government-backed Overseas Private Investment Fund and Citibank to provide a political-risk insurance fund with up to $400 million in coverage. Iraq and Jordan ultimately refuse the deal explaining that the plan “does not meet specific requirements of the Project and does not satisfy our objectives.” [Vallette, 3/24/2003]
Steven Calabresi joins the Justice Department. Calabresi is a young conservative lawyer who has clerked for appeals court Robert Bork, who failed to secure a position on the Supreme Court just months before (see July 1-October 23, 1987). Calabresi, a co-founder of the Federalist Society of conservative lawyers and judges, joins forces with another ambitious young Justice Department lawyer, John Harrison, and the two begin working to expand the power of the president. Calabresi and Harrison decide that an aggressive use of presidential signing statements can advance the president’s authority to the detriment of the legislative and judicial branches. Unfazed by a recent judicial rejection of just such signing statement usage (see 1984-1985), Calabresi and Harrison write a memo to Attorney General Edwin Meese advocating the issuing of more signing statements as part of a larger strategy to increase the president’s influence over the law. Calabresi and Harrison are interested in how what they call “activist judges” use the legislative history of a bill that became law to interpret that law’s meaning in subsequent judicial actions. The two lawyers believe that by issuing signing statements, the president can create a parallel record of presidential interpretations of potentially ambiguous laws to help guide judicial decisions. Meese approves of the idea, and in December has the West Publishing Company, which prints the US Code Congressional and Administration News, the standard collection of bills’ legislative history, begin including presidential signing statements in its publications. In 2007, author Charlie Savage will call Meese’s move “a major step in increasing the perceived legitimacy of the device.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 232] In 2007, Calabresi will say: “I initially thought of signing statements as presidential legislative history. I’ve subsequently come to think of them as being important vehicles by which presidents can control subordinates in the executive branch. They subsequently came to be important to the unitary executive [theory of presidential power].” [Savage, 2007, pp. 234]
Ralph Tarr, the acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, drafts a memo explaining how the White House has issued signing statements up until now (see August 23, 1985 - December 1985), and makes recommendations on how to improve the process. Tarr, acting at the behest of an aide to Attorney General Edwin Meese, issues what author Charlie Savage will call “a prescient seven-page manifesto.” Tarr writes that signing statements are “presently underutilized and could become far more important as a tool of presidential management of the agencies, a device for preserving issues of importance in the ongoing struggle for power with Congress, and an aid to statutory interpretation for the courts.” Tarr writes that signing statements have the potential to be used as a threat “with which to negotiate concessions from Congress.” The statements can also be used to tell executive branch agencies how to interpret a law: “The president can direct agencies to ignore unconstitutional provisions or to read provisions in a way that eliminates constitutional or policy problems. This direction permits the president to seize the initiative in creating what will eventually be the agency’s interpretation.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 232-233]
Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, the National Security Council staffer who facilitates the secret Iran arms deals, helps divert $12 million in money from those arms sales to the Nicaraguan Contras. The deal is documented in a memorandum located in North’s desk by investigators for Attorney General Edwin Meese (see November 21-25, 1986). Meese will inform President Reagan and top White House officials of the memo, but many of the cabinet members and top officials he will inform already know of the transaction. [United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, 8/4/1993] National Security Adviser John Poindexter, the recipient of the memo, will later testify that President Reagan never saw the memo. Reagan will deny knowing anything about the diversion of arms profits to the Contras until November 1986 (see November 10, 1986 and After and November 13, 1986). [New York Times, 11/19/1987]
Edwin Meese. [Source: GQ (.com)]Attorney General Edwin Meese receives a report, “Separation of Powers: Legislative-Executive Relations.” Meese had commissioned the report from the Justice Department’s Domestic Policy Committee, an internal “think tank” staffed with hardline conservative scholars and policy advisers.
Recommendations for Restoring, Expanding Executive Power - The Meese report approvingly notes that “the strong leadership of President Reagan seems clearly to have ended the congressional resurgence of the 1970s.” It lays out recommendations for restoring the power taken from the executive branch after Watergate and Vietnam, and adding new powers besides. It recommends that the White House refuse to enforce laws and statutes that “unconstitutionally encroach upon the executive branch,” and for Reagan to veto more legislation and to use “signing statements” to state the White House’s position on newly passed laws. It also assails the 1972 War Powers Resolution and other laws that limit presidential power.
Reinterpreting the Separation of Powers and the Concept of 'Checks and Balances' - Perhaps most importantly, the Meese report claims that for 200 years, courts and scholars alike have misunderstood and misinterpreted the Founders’ intentions in positing the “separation of powers” system (see 1787 and 1793). The belief that the Constitution mandates three separate, co-equal branches of government—executive, judicial, and legislative—who wield overlapping areas of authority and work to keep each of the other branches from usurping too much power—a concept taught in school as “checks and balances”—is wrong, the report asserts. Instead, each branch has separate and independent sets of powers, and none of the three branches may tread or encroach on the others’ area of responsibility and authority. “The only ‘sharing of power’ is the sharing of the sum of all national government power,” the report claims. “But that is not joint shared, it is explicitly divided among the three branches.” According to the report, the White House should exercise total and unchallenged control of the executive branch, which, as reporter and author Charlie Savage will later explain, “could be conceived of as a unitary being with the president as its brain.” The concept of “checks and balances” is nothing more than an unconstitutional attempt by Congress to encroach on the rightful power of the executive. This theory of presidential function will soon be dubbed the “unitary executive theory,” a title adapted from a passage by Alexander Hamilton in the Federalist Papers. [Savage, 2007, pp. 47-48] Charles Fried, Reagan’s solicitor general during the second term, will later write that though the unitary executive theory displays “perfect logic” and a “beautiful symmetry,” it is difficult to defend, because it “is not literally compelled by the words of the Constitution. Nor did the framers’ intent compel this view.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 50]
Antonin Scalia. [Source: Oyez.org]Appeals court judge Antonin Scalia is sworn in as an Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court. [Legal Information Institute, 7/30/2007] Although Scalia is an ardent social conservative, with strongly negative views on such issues as abortion and homosexual rights, Scalia and Reagan administration officials both have consistently refused to answer questions about his positions on these issues, as President Reagan did at his June announcement of Scalia’s nomination. [Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, 6/17/1986] Scalia’s nomination is, in the words of Justice Department official Terry Eastland, “no better example of how a president should work in an institutional sense in choosing a nominee….” Eastland advocates the practice of a president seeking a judiciary nominee who has the proper “judicial philosophy.” A president can “influence the direction of the courts through his appointments” because “the judiciary has become more significant in our politics,” meaning Republican politics. [Dean, 2007, pp. 132] Scalia is the product of a careful search by Attorney General Edwin Meese and a team of Justice Department officials who wanted to find the nominee who would most closely mirror Reagan’s judicial and political philosophy (see 1985-1986).
Attorney General Edwin Meese. [Source: Doug Mills / Bettman / Corbis]Attorney General Edwin Meese undertakes an internal fact-finding investigation focused on President Reagan’s involvement in the November 1985 sale of Hawk missiles to Iran (see 1985). Meese is apparently not interested in finding facts, because he refuses a request to assist from the FBI, and takes no notes during his interviews of administration officials.
'Shredding Party' - Additionally, during his investigation, National Security Council documents are altered or destroyed, including a presidential finding from December 1985 that retroactively authorized US missile sales to Iran (see November 24-25, 1985 and December 5, 1985); National Security Adviser John Poindexter will later admit to destroying this document. Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North holds what is later called a “shredding party,” destroying thousands of documents that would likely implicate White House officials in a criminal conspiracy to break the law (see November 21-23, 1986). The Iran-Contra investigative committee will later fault Meese for departing from “standard investigative techniques” during his investigation.
Document Linking Iran Arms Sales, Contra Supplies Survives - Meese also finds a potentially explosive document in the desk of North, the National Security Council staffer who managed the Iran arms deals. The document, an undated memorandum apparently from April 1986, outlined “a planned diversion of $12 million in proceeds from the Iran arms sales to the Nicaraguan contras” (see April 4, 1986). Meese’s investigation now diverges onto two tracks, one a continuation of the Hawk shipments, and the second an investigation into who knew about, and who had approved, the diversion.
Reagan Courting Impeachment? - Meese confirms from North that the $12 million had indeed been given to the Contras, and informs Reagan, Chief of Staff Donald Regan, and Vice President Bush. Reagan is reportedly shocked by the revelation, in part because he knows he could face impeachment for violating the Boland Amendment (see October 10, 1984). Meese informs the cabinet the next day. Apparently Meese does not want to know if any senior White House officials knew of the diversion, because he does not ask them about it. When Poindexter informs Meese that before December 1985, his predecessor Robert McFarlane handled the Iran arms sales “all alone” with “no documentation,” Meese accepts his word. Several White House officials present at the meeting—Reagan, Regan, Bush, Poindexter, Secretary of State George Shultz, and Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger—all know that Poindexter is lying, but none correct him. After the meeting, Shultz tells his aide, Charles Hill: “They may lay all this off on Bud [McFarlane].… They [are] rearranging the record.” Investigative counsel Lawrence Walsh will later write: “The Select Committees viewed this as an isolated error. It was not.”
'Case for Deniability' for Reagan - In Walsh’s opinion, Meese is not conducting an investigation at all, but instead is “building a case of deniability for his client-in-fact, President Reagan.” Walsh will characterize Meese’s actions as “an effort to obstruct a congressional inquiry.” In 2006, authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein will write, “The two strands of an illegal policy came together in that memo.” The authors refer to the US arms sales to Iran and the diversion of the profits from those sales to the Contras. [New York Times, 11/19/1987; United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, 8/4/1993; PBS, 2000; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 66]
Entity Tags: Charles Hill, Edwin Meese, Caspar Weinberger, Ronald Reagan, Robert C. McFarlane, Oliver North, Federal Bureau of Investigation, George Herbert Walker Bush, George Shultz, Jake Bernstein, Contras, Donald Regan, Lou Dubose, Lawrence E. Walsh, John Poindexter
Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair
Attorney General Edwin Meese announces the results of his internal “investigation” of US arms sales to Iran (see November 21-25, 1986). In the conference, Meese announces that President Reagan did not learn of the US shipments of Hawk anti-aircraft missiles (see 1985, November 24-25, 1985, and August 4, 1986) until February 1986. Investigators for Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh will later conclude that Meese lied; not only did Meese never ask Reagan about his knowledge of the Hawk shipments, he ignored evidence and testimony that proved Reagan did indeed know of the shipments, such as a statement from Secretary of State George Shultz that Reagan had told him that he had known of the Hawk shipments in advance. But Meese will also, reluctantly, admit that the US had illegally diverted between $10 million and $30 million in funds from Iranian arms sales to the Nicaraguan Contras (see April 4, 1986). National Security Adviser John Poindexter immediately resigns, and Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North is fired from the National Security Council staff. [New York Times, 11/19/1987; United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, 8/4/1993; PBS, 2000]
Former Deputy Attorney General Lowell Jensen says that Attorney General Ed Meese was informed about the Justice Department’s dealings with Inslaw. He makes the statement in a sworn deposition to the Office of Professional Responsibility, a Justice Department unit investigating the department’s alleged theft of the enhanced PROMIS case tracking software from Inslaw. Jensen says, “I have had conversations with the attorney general [Meese] about the whole Inslaw matter, as to what had taken place in the PROMIS development and what had taken place with the contract and what decisions had been made by the department with reference to that.” [US Congress, 9/10/1992] However, Meese will tell the House Judiciary Committee he has no recollection of any discussions about case tracking (see July 12, 1990).
Justice Department staff tell Attorney General Edwin Meese that Judge George Bason of the Bankruptcy Court for the District of Columbia is “off his rocker,” according to a sworn statement Meese will later make to the House Judiciary Committee. Bason is presiding over a dispute between the department and the software company Inslaw (see June 9, 1986) and will eventually rule against the department (see September 28, 1987). This comment appears to be part of a campaign to get Bason removed from the case (see June 19, 1987) and a judge more favorable to the department appointed. [US Congress, 9/10/1992]
The software company Inslaw submits allegations about the Justice Department’s conduct in the dispute over the enhanced PROMIS application to the Public Integrity Section (PIS), a departmental oversight component. The allegations follow on from the findings of a bankruptcy court favourable to Inslaw (see September 28, 1987 and January 25, 1988). In the complaint, Inslaw charges the department with:
Procurement fraud. Inslaw claims that Attorney General Edwin Meese and former Deputy Attorney General Lowell Jensen schemed to ensure that enhancements made to the PROMIS software by Inslaw would be obtained for free by the department, which would then make them available to a businessman named Earl Brian;
Violation of automatic stay debtor protection provisions invoked by the bankruptcy court. Inslaw says that by using the enhancements it made to the software after the bankruptcy case was filed, the department violated federal bankruptcy law. The bankruptcy court found that the department committed such violation, an act that could constitute an obstruction of the bankruptcy proceedings; and
Attempts to change Inslaw’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy, for the company’s reorganization, into a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, for the company’s liquidation. Inslaw says that the department unsuccessfully attempted to have an official named Harry Jones detailed from the US Trustee’s office in New York to Washington to take over the Inslaw bankruptcy to get Inslaw liquidated. Inslaw also says unsuccessful pressure was exerted by departmental official Thomas Stanton on US Trustee William White to convert the bankruptcy case into a Chapter 7 liquidation.
The PIS says it will examine some of the allegations, but in the end it will not open a formal preliminary investigation (see February 29, 1988). [US Congress, 9/10/1992]
The Public Integrity Section (PIS), a Justice Department oversight component, decides not to open a preliminary investigation of the Inslaw affair over the department’s alleged misappropriation of PROMIS software (see February 1988). The decision is communicated in a memo drafted by William F. Weld, the assistant attorney general for the department’s criminal division, of which the PIS is a part. The PIS finds that at least some of the people Inslaw complains about, including Attorney General Edwin Meese, former Deputy Attorney General Lowell Jensen, and Deputy Attorney General Arnold Burns, are appropriate targets of an investigation and that Inslaw is generally a credible source for allegations. However, according to Weld, the information Inslaw provides is not specific enough to constitute grounds to begin a preliminary investigation of the need for an independent counsel. This is because the PIS regards the facts Inslaw presented as unsupported speculation that the officials were involved in a scheme to get the enhanced PROMIS software. Therefore, the review should be closed “due to lack of evidence of criminality.” The House Judiciary Committee will be critical of the PIS’s finding, calling its investigation “shallow and incomplete,” and saying the department appeared to be “more interested in constructing legal defenses for its managerial actions rather than investigating claims of wrongdoing which, if proved, could undermine or weaken its litigating posture.” [US Congress, 9/10/1992]
The Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), an oversight unit at the Justice Department, issues a report on the Inslaw affair over the department’s alleged theft of enhanced PROMIS software. The report finds that allegations of bias made by Inslaw and seconded by a bankruptcy court (see September 28, 1987) against departmental officials are unsupported. Inslaw had questioned the performance of former Attorney General Edwin Meese, former Deputy Attorney General Lowell Jensen, former Deputy Attorney General Arnold Burns, and others. The OPR says that the court’s findings on misconduct by department officials are “clearly erroneous.” In addition, the report says: “There is no credible evidence that the department took or stole Inslaw’s enhanced PROMIS by trickery, fraud, and deceit. Additionally, we have found no credible evidence that there existed in the department a plot to move to convert Inslaw’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy to one under Chapter 7 of the bankruptcy code.” The House Judiciary Committee will be extremely critical of this investigation, commenting, “During its investigation OPR chose to ignore the court’s findings and conclusions that there was bias against Inslaw at the department.” In addition, the committee will say that the OPR looked at the bias allegations in isolation and “incredibly” did not examine the merits of the contract dispute, meaning its conclusions on the taking of PROMIS and the type of bankruptcy were “gratuitous,” especially as Burns had told it the department agreed Inslaw owned the enhancements it made to PROMIS (see August 11, 1982). The committee will also point out that the OPR’s deputy counsel, Richard M. Rogers, said he was recused from the investigation because of his association with Burns, although he was present when Meese provided a sworn statement. In this context, the committee will highlight problems found by the Government Accountability Office with OPR around this time (see February 7, 1992). [US Congress, 9/10/1992]
Former Attorney General Edwin Meese is interviewed by the House Judiciary Committee about the Inslaw affair. He says that he cannot recall any discussions with former Justice Department official Lowell Jensen about office automation or case tracking at the department. He adds that if there were such a discussion, it would have been casual conversation. [US Congress, 9/10/1992] However, Jensen previously said he discussed the “whole Inslaw matter” with Meese (see June 19, 1987).
Lois Battistoni, a former employee of the Justice Department’s criminal division, says that the PROMIS application may have been transferred from the department to a private business. She makes the claim in a sworn statement for the House Judiciary Committee in October 1991, and again in an interview in February of the next year. According to Battistoni, a criminal division employee had previously told her that there was a company chosen to take over PROMIS implementation contracts served by Inslaw at that time. This company was apparently connected to a top department official through a California relationship. Inslaw owner William Hamilton will speculate that this company is Hadron, Inc., as it was owned by businessman Earl Brian, who was linked to former Attorney General Edwin Meese. However, Battistoni says that she has little firsthand knowledge of the facts surrounding these allegations, and does not provide the committee with the name of the criminal division employee who made the claim to her, indicating department employees are afraid to cooperate with Congress for fear of reprisal. She also makes a number of allegations about the involvement of department employees in the destruction of documents related to the affair. [US Congress, 9/10/1992]
John Schoolmeester, a former Customs Services program officer, says that Peter Videnieks, a Justice Department official who worked on the implementation of PROMIS software, is linked to a company called Hadron, Inc., owned by Earl Brian, a businessman involved in the PROMIS affair. Schoolmeester makes the claim in two sworn statements provided to the House Judiciary Committee on October 10 and November 6, 1991. Schoolmeester says he has direct knowledge of ties between Videnieks and Hadron, Inc., prior to Videnieks’ employment with the Justice Department. According to Schoolmeester, Videnieks, as a contracting officer for the Customs Service, was involved with several Hadron, Inc. contracts, and he would necessarily have met with Dominic Laiti (a former Hadron chief executive officer) on a regular basis, because that was the way Laiti conducted business. However, Videnieks tells the committee under oath that he does not know and has not had any conversations with Laiti or Brian. Schoolmeester also says that Brian is “the behind-the-scenes guy at Hadron,” but he is not certain whether Videnieks met with him. Finally, he says that Brian is well connected in Washington and had connections with former Attorney General Edwin Meese and several Congressional figures. [US Congress, 9/10/1992]
Civil rights division logo. [Source: US Department of Justice]The Bush administration embarks on a program to politicize the Justice Department’s civil rights division (CRD). The CRD is staffed by some 350 permanently employed lawyers who take complaints, investigate problems, propose lawsuits, litigate cases, and negotiate settlements. For decades, the decisions on who should fill these positions have been made by civil servants and not by political appointees. The CRD is an obvious target for politicization, and until now the Justice Department has tried to ensure that no such politicization ever took place. “There was obviously oversight from the front office [where the political appointees work], but I don’t remember a time when an individual went through that process and was not accepted,” Charles Cooper, a former lawyer in the CRD during the Reagan administration, will later recall. “I just don’t think there was any quarrel with the quality of individuals who were being hired. And we certainly weren’t placing any kind of political litmus test on… the individuals who were ultimately determined to be best qualified.”
Hiring Conservatives in Place of Career Lawyers - But Attorney General John Ashcroft changes those rules, without making any sort of official announcement. The hiring committee is not formally disbanded, but it stops having meetings scheduled, and the political appointees begin making career hiring decisions. In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write, “The result of the unprecedented change was a quiet remaking of the civil rights division, effectively turning hundreds of career jobs into politically appointed positions.” No longer would career attorneys be hired for their civil rights background; instead, lawyers from conservative law schools or from conservative legal organizations such as the Republican National Lawyers Association are given favorable treatment. Some of the new hires worked with Kenneth Starr’s Whitewater investigative team or had worked with other prominent conservatives, including former Attorney General Edwin Meese or Senator Trent Lott (R-MO). Some list themselves as belonging to prominent Christian political organizations that promote socially conservative views such as opposition to abortion and to affirmative action.
Shift towards 'Reverse Discrimination' Cases - After the new hires are in place, the division shifts its focus: instead of working on voter rights, employment discrimination, and other such cases affecting African-Americans and Hispanics, the division begins working to develop “reverse discrimination” cases in favor of whites and Christians. [Savage, 2007, pp. 295-297]
Driving Career Employees Away - Over the next few years, the types of cases pursued by the CRD changes drastically (see 2005, 2006, and 2006), and career attorneys with decades of service begin leaving the division in large numbers. The Justice Department will even encourage older hires to leave by offering them a buyout. Savage will write, “With every new vacancy, the administration gained a new change to use the new rules to hire another lawyer more in line with its political agenda.” CRD attorney David Becker will tell a 2006 NAACP hearing: “Even during other administrations that were perceived as being hostile to civil rights enforcement, career staff did not leave in numbers approaching this level. In the place of those experienced litigators and investigators, this administration has, all too often, hired inexperienced ideologues, virtually none of which have any civil rights or voting rights experience.” Some supporters say that the Bush administration is merely righting an imbalance, where the CRD was previously top-heavy with liberal lawyers interested in protecting African-Americans over other groups, but one of the CRD’s top career lawyers from 1965 through 1994, Jim Turner, says, “To say that the civil rights division had a special penchant for hiring liberal lawyers is twisting things.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 298-299]
Entity Tags: John Ashcroft, Civil Rights Division (DOJ), Charlie Savage, Charles Cooper, Bush administration (43), David Becker, Jim Turner, Trent Lott, US Department of Justice, Edwin Meese, Republican National Lawyers Association, Kenneth Starr
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database
Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.