Sen. John C. Danforth (R-Mo.) said yesterday that he told Associate Attorney General Rudolph W. Giuliani that a McDonnell Douglas Corp. attorney wanted to meet with him to discuss complaints about the Justice Department's handling of a pending criminal case against the St. Louis firm and four top executives.

Danforth's recollection appears to contradict Giuliani's statement that he didn't know the purpose of the May 14 meeting until McDonnell Douglas general counsel John Sant began talking about the case, in which the firm was charged with paying bribes in Pakistan to sell DC 10 jetliners. Giuliani said last night that he recalled no mention by the senator of the complaint being about a criminal case.

Two Justice attorneys handling the case said they were outraged that Giuliani scheduled the meeting without their knowledge and suggested it could undermine the government's position in the case and public confidence in the department. Giuliani said he had done nothing improper and would continue to meet with defense attorneys without line prosecutors present.

Danforth, whose brother is a McDonnell Douglas director, said in a telephone interview that he requested the meeting after Sant said the corporation was being treated unfairly. He told Giuliani that Sant felt Justice had used the law incorrectly in the case. "I certainly imagined he [Giuliani] knew what it [the case] was about," the senator said.

"I would hope we have a system in this country where responsible people could lodge complaints," Danforth said. "McDonnell Douglas is the number one employer in Missouri and the leading corporate citizen of our state. It [arranging the meeting] was the kind of thing you do for a constituent."