Attorney General Griffin B. Bell is starting what may become a tradition for Cabinet members facing troubles in court cases: the Order of the Hacksaw.
Last summer, after a New York judge cited Bell for contempt of court for refusing to turn over confidential FBI informant files to the Socialist Workers Party, Washington attorney Charles Morgan Jr. sent the attorney general a hacksaw. It was a joking reminder of what Bell might need to get out of jail, which is where the SWP wanted him.
A week ago, a federal appeals court overturned the contempt citation. With jail no longer a threat, Bell called Morgan to ask him how he should dispose of the hacksaw, which had been hanging on his office door for eight months.
Morgan agreed with Bell's idea that the hacksaw should be passed along to Health, Education and Welfare Secretary Joseph A. Califano Jr., who is facing a possible contempt citation growing out of a North Carolina civil rights dispute.
"I sent him [Califano] the hacksaw for good luck. I wanted to make him feel better," Bell said with a chuckle yesterday. "I saw Joe last night at the Gridiron Club dinner and he said it made him feel worse." (Califano has asked the attorney general, as the government's top lawyer, to defend him in the North Carolina case.)
"Here he said he'd selected a lawyer to keep him out of jail and I was sending him a hacksaw," Bell said. "He said it was one of the most chilling things that had ever happened to him. And he took a dim view, too, of my sending the hacksaw through the mails."