Poor Ronnie. It wasn't bad enough that his son suggested he was suffering from Alzheimer's even before he left office. All these reminiscences of his 100th birthday during the last week have brought up the fact that his attorney general, Edwin Meese, may have been suffering from the dread illness during his prolonged confirmation hearings--even before he got into office. He couldn't remember a damn thing!
Time: Mar. 26, 1984
By Ed Magnuson. Reported by Anne Constable/Washington
The Senate finds a few more questions to ask Edwin Meese...
The Senate confirmation of Presidential Counsellor Edwin Meese as Attorney General has suddenly shifted from a near certainty to an increasingly close call. Republican Strom Thurmond, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, had closed the heated hearings two weeks ago after four days of testimony. But last week he reluctantly agreed to Democratic demands that Meese answer more questions before the committee voted on his nomination. "The longer the issue accelerates, the better and better his chances of being defeated become," said Meese's chief opponent, Ohio Democrat Howard Metzenbaum.
Why reopen the hearings? The key was a revelation in the Washington Post that Meese had failed to tell the committee about a $15,000 interest-free loan made in December 1980 to his wife Ursula by Edwin W. Thomas, a longtime California friend of the couple's. Meese had also failed to include the loan in his 1981 financial-disclosure statement, which was supposed to cover any large assets or indebtedness of anyone in his family. After the Post sought an explanation from him to include in its story revealing the loan, Meese hurriedly wrote a letter of apology to the Judiciary Committee saying, "I sincerely regret the oversight."
The Meese letter said that his wife had used the loan to buy stock for their children early in 1981 in Biotech Capital Corp., a firm headed by a colleague of Meese and Thomas' from California.
That "friend" could not possibly have been Earl Winfrey Brian, could it? According to Cheri Seymour in her book, The Last Circle:
An old 1975 Sacramento Bee newspaper article, dated January 12, 1975, reported that Earl Brian, called the Genius Doctor by his friends, was out to get a little "of that Middle Eastern oil money." The article went on to say that Brian was "helping to write a proposal on health care for Iran."
Brian, then at the University of Southern California, was working with Samuel Tibbetts of the California Lutheran Hospital Association, which in turn was working with a Chicago group. The Chicago group was not named and details of the proposal were not known. It is significant that Brian left his post one year before this proposal was written, in 1974, as Governor Ronald Reagan's Health and Welfare secretary. It was not known whether the contract with the Iranian government was ever consummated.
Another interesting facet of Brian's background included his relationship with Senator Terry Sanford (D-N.C.). Prior to his election, Sanford had been the attorney representing Earl Brian in his 1985 takeover bid for United Press International (UPI). Sanford was also instrumental in winning Brian an appointment to the board of Duke University Medical School. At that time, Sanford was the president of Duke University.
Dr. Brian ultimately directed his energies towards biological technology. Another of his companies, Biotech Capital Corporation of New York, became 50% owner of American Cytogenetics, which was planning in 1982 to create a subsidiary to engage in genetic research. One notable investor in Biotech, when it went public in 1981, was Edwin Meese. Today, American Cytogenetics in North Hollywood, California, conducts Pap tests for cervical cancer. It also tests tissue samples for cancer and related diseases. Sales in 1985 were $3.4 million.
Hadron, of which Dr. Brian was a director, provided engineering and computer consulting services, along with telecommunications products. Sales were $25.7 million in 1985. Clinical Sciences, Inc. sells biochemical products used for diagnostic tests and antibody analysis. Dr. Brian was also a director of this company. Sales in 1986 were about $4 million.
|For the right price!|
But Meese also failed to list the stock holding [for Biotech], as required, in his 1981 financial-disclosure statement. He told the Judiciary Committee that his wife sold the stock on May 13, 1983, at a loss of $3,000 and repaid the loan at about the same time. Since the interest rate on a personal loan for the period was about 16%, the lack of interest charged over the 30 months was in effect a gift of more than $3,000.
In isolation, Meese's omission of the loan could have been considered as merely another example of his shaky memory. But the real problem for Meese was that the newly revealed loan seemed to be part of a pattern in which individuals who helped Meese financially landed federal jobs.
- Thomas, who had been assistant Cabinet secretary in California when Reagan was Governor, was appointed a deputy to Meese in the White House in January 1981 at a salary of $59,500. Thomas left the Meese staff in 1982 to become a regional administrator of the General Services Administration in San Francisco, a $69,600 Government post.
- His wife Gretchen was appointed on Sept. 5, 1982, to a $30,402 federal job with the Merit Systems Protection Board. They join a lengthening list of Meese benefactors who got appointive jobs from the Reagan Administration. They include:
- John McKean, a California accountant, who lent $60,000 to Meese in 1981 and demanded no interest payments for more than 20 months. McKean was appointed a part-time member of the Postal Service board of governors on July 31, 1981, and is now the board's chairman.
- Thomas Barrack, a California real estate developer, who found a buyer for Meese's California house in the summer of 1982, lent $70,000 to a prospective purchaser and then forgave the loan. Barrack was appointed Deputy Under Secretary of the Interior in December 1982.
- Gordon Luce, chairman of Great American Federal Savings Bank in San Diego, who was named an alternate U.S. delegate to the United Nations after his bank granted Meese mortgage loans of more than $400,000 and let him fall 15 months behind in payments without threatening foreclosure.
Meese has insisted in his confirmation testimony that his financial deals had no connection with the federal appointments (he is certain to be asked about Thomas when hearings resume) and has denied initiating any of the appointments. But he served on a White House committee that approved the appointment of McKean, at least, without disclosing the loan he had received from the appointee. Democrats are demanding that top Reagan aides be called to testify this week about how the appointments were made, but the White House says that it may invoke Executive privilege to block their appearance.
Critics on the committee have found Meese's memory troubling on the matter of memos addressed to him that referred to inside information from the Jimmy Carter campaign staff in 1980 [sometimes referred to as "debate-gate"]. The Judiciary Committee has received at least eight such papers from a house subcommittee that tried unsuccessfully to determine how the Reagan campaign team acquired documents used to prepare Carter for his 1980 debate with Reagan. Except for one of the memos he has been asked about, Meese has told the Senators that he has "no recollection" of having seen them.
Meese sought to defuse another issue last week by retiring from the Army Reserve. After two years on active duty and 25 years in the Reserve, Meese by February 1983 had been promoted to colonel and given a previously nonexistent assignment as a consultant to the Selective Service System. The procedure was criticized by the Army's inspector general as a violation of regulations. With opposition from the eight Democrats on the Judiciary Committee apparently hardening against him, Meese will have to persuade all of the ten Republicans to stay with him if he is to get a favorable committee vote.
Two Republicans, Charles Mathias of Maryland and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, have been among those urging Meese to explain more fully his financial dealings and to try to refresh his memory. "Mr. Meese has some questions to answer," said Specter. Meese, in turn, accused the Democrats of making "false and misleading statements" based on "election-year politics." At the White House, Reagan vowed to support his adviser. Asked if Meese's nomination was in trouble, the President responded last week, "Not as far as I'm concerned."