Edwin Meese III is deep into conversation, in that corner office that was originally built for Henry A. Kissinger, when a private line on his telephone console rings.

"Excuse me," he tells a visitor, making somewhat of an apology, "But I have a rule that, no matter what, I will always interrupt what I am doing if I get a call from a Cabinet member" -- he pauses -- "or from the president."

Those in the loop, in that tight inner circle that drives the White House, have taken to calling Meese "the Prime Minister." They call him that mostly when he is not around, but they mean no disrespect.

They mean simply that, while President Reagan has given the country a Cabinet government, it is one that is managed by and reports through Meese. Which makes him the second most important person in Washington.

This time, David A. Stockman, director of the Office of Management and Budget, is calling because he is about to make one last effort with Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger to find at least one economy they can publicize in a defense budget now laden with new hardware.

"Well, there must be something," Meese says finally. "I mean,if you close the coffee shops on all the bases it would save hundreds of man-hours."

He is still chuckling about that as he hangs up the telephone.

Just a year ago, when Reagan revamped his campaign's high command, news that Meese had risen to the top caused barely a ripple among Washington's political cognoscenti. A few knew a little about him; most knew nothing at all.

Today, Edwin Meese III, if not prime minister, is "deputy president," by most accounts. He has been on those Sunday TV panel shows so often in recent months that his pleasantly wattled, potatoesque presence has become a veritable household fixture in America's living rooms. He has faced the nation, met the press and issued answers, all in the name of explaining Ronald Reagan to the American public.

But those appearances did not reveal much about Meese, his origins and his instincts. And since he has been placed in charge of overseeing the formulation of all American policy, foreign and domestic, he seems like someone the country ought to know better.

At 49, Meese is a man of two overriding professional passions: a love of police and law enforcement operations, and a love of the military. He is a former prosecutor who just retired as a lieutenant colonel in the Army reserve.

But, like most human beings, Meese is more complicated than simple labels would describe.

His law enforcement predilections were tempered by a willingness to compromise with his political opposites. He displayed, for instance, an unabashed tendency to appoint card-carrying Democrats to state judgeships occasionally. He was known generally for his genial and professionally unambitious nature.

But Meese was, and is, most of all, a law-and-order man.

He was the law school student who preferred sketching military reserve organization charts to outlining contracts and torts.

He was the assistant district attorney who spent his off hours riding in police patrol cars.

He was the governor's executive assistant who liked to relax at home while listening to police radio chatter.

And today, as presidential counselor of Cabinet rank, Meese is the proud possessor of a collection of pigs: figurines and statuettes displayed in his den as a symbolic tribute to America's policemen, who were so frequently denounced as "pigs" in those street protests of the 1960s. That unruly, sometimes violent struggle was a formative part of his experience before Washington, and Meese stood proudly with the cops.

No sooner had Edwin Meese walked through the door than the window glass started flying around S. I. Hayakawa's conference room.

It was 1969, and Vietnam war dissent was in the air, along with well-aimed rocks and four-letter epithets, as the students of San Francisco State reacted with predictable fury. Hayakawa celebrated his first day as university president by climbing atop the protesters' sound truck and yanking out their bullhorn wires.

Gov. Ronald Reagan of California, executing the gubernatorial equivalent of steaming a carrier into the Gulf, waved a flag of support for Hayakawa by dispatching a team of observers, headed by his executive assistant, to the campus. Meese, a perpetually pleasant man whose Boston-Irish cop face was just beginning to jowl, had become something of an expert in facing down student demonstrations.

The huge windows of Hayakawa's chamber were succumbing to the tokens of appreciation offered up by the students below. Then came the unmistakeable sounds that the protesters had forced their way into the building.

Raymond Cameron, a state justice department officer, recalls how Meese shifted quietly from the role of observer to a role of command.

"He just took charge," Cameron says. "All of the academics were panicking, so Ed took command. He said, 'You do this, you do that.' He told everyone to follow police orders. He turned to me and asked me, 'Isn't this about the same as those draft protests in Oakland?' I said 'Yes.' And he said, 'Well, why don't we try the same thing we used then?' And that's what we did."

One by one, the law enforcement officials began identifying the protest ringleaders and removing them from the scene -- just as Meese had had them do back in those Oakland and Berkeley draft protests of '65, '66 and '67 -- and once again the protest eventually dissipated and dissolved from a lack of leaders.

"He prevented a panic that day," Cameron says admiringly.

The recollection of Hayakawa, now the junior senator from California, is less precise.

Upon hearing the chanting and the crashing from the protesters, Hayakawa had declared: "I have to go out and calm them down." That prompted the governor's man to issue a discreet order to the nearest lawman, who dutifully carried out that command.

"I remember a cop coming and grabbing me protectively and locking me in the bathroom," Hayakawa recalls. "But I cannot remember which was the captain of the police and which was the representative of the governor . . . That day is pretty confused in my mind."

When he is told who ordered him locked in the bathroom for safe-keeping, Hayakawa looks stunned, then delighted. "So that was Ed Meese? No kidding!"

The senator pauses, reflecting on an opportunity missed.

"Well," he says, "we really didn't have time for a philosophical conversation that day, since, after all, I spent the day in the bathroom."

"The greatest threat to academic freedom occurred in that era, the '60s," Edwin Meese III, counselor to the president is saying.

"It was largely the work of a relatively few skillful manipulators on the campuses who got the rest of the student riled up . . . My concern was for the individuals who wanted to study and who were interfered with by people who sought to impose their views on all of the people."

Meese is talking between forkfuls of spaghetti, over dinner at the restaurant of his choosing, Bob's Big Boy, a culinary establishment located on one of those suburban Virginia avenues, just across the street from the high-rise apartment that serves as his temporary new home. The restaurant, Meese apologizes, was chosen more for its expedience than its excellence.

After a long day in that West Wing corner office that was built for Kissinger, Meese is thinking it will be nice to have a few quiet moments with a dry martini, or at least a cool beer.But the waittress explains the rules of the house. The counselor to the president settles for a Tab, and finds a respite from the duties of his day by talking of the lessons of his past.

"I wound up being called to help out in just about every one of those demonstrations back then," Meese says. His service came first as a member of the Alameda County (the Oakland and Berkeley area) district attorney's staff, and later as an assistant to the governor of California.

He came away with strong feelings about the need to prevent dissent from impinging on law and order and the rights of others.

By 1970, Meese had risen to the rank of executive assistant to the governor when he appeared at a luncheon of law enforcement and military officials and told them all about what he called a "decade of confrontation . . . of sit-ins, lay-ins, wade-ins, et cetera," according to a newspaper account of the speech.

Campus "revolutionaries" turned the "most gullible and naive" generation he had seen against the war in Vietnam. Universities had been "perverted from curricular missions" because classes were being used for discussions of the invasion of Cambodia and the larger war in Vietnam, he said.

Now, as a presidential counselor dining at Bob's Big Boy, a decade later and a continent distant from that turmoil, Meese talks of blame and responsibility for that era with undimmed conviction:

". . . The universities were plunged from being citadels of the best that American has to offer to the worst that America had [in the 1960s]. As a result, the universities no longer enjoyed the respect and support of a majority of Americans.

"Whether it was the free speech movement or the filthy speech movement or the war in Vietnam or whatever, taxi drivers came to no longer revere our universities. . . . It turned people against the institutions of our society -- anti-police, anti-university -- all because of students who were willing to close down a university. And in fact, it wasn't just students. It was a lot of adults who were at fault too, adults who did not have the courage to stand up to the students. . . .

"It was a very, very unfortunate era."

Life on America's campuses, and in America's streets, is better now, Meese says he believes. "I don't think you have these same undesirable and anti-education elements on the campuses," he says. "Students and faculties are more mature than they were in the '60s. The faculties particularly have learned a lot. . . . In the '60s faculty members encouraged demonstrators and protesters. . . ."

Should demonstrations and protests be an influencing force upon government policymaking?

"Demonstrations and protests are probably the least effective way [to influence policy]," Meese says. "If an administration, whether ours or otherwise, gives way to a small minority who are protesting . . . then it can be unfair to the majority." But, he added, an administration should not automatically reject a position simply because it is being championed vocally in street protests.

The conversation with the counselor to the president shifts, but only slightly, to the impact of those antiwar protests on the conduct of policy in the White Houses that preceded his. He continues to speak with conviction:

"Basically, those demonstrations prolonged the war and cost a lot of American lives. The demonstrations encouraged them [the North Vietnamese] to go on, and prevented our elected officials from taking the steps necessary to win the war.

"That war was prosecuted in the worst possible way. . . . In World War II we did everything necessary to win the war, to destroy the enemy's will to fight. But in Vietnam we had no apparent strategy. We were going into the same villages time and time again."

Should military leaders share the blame for Vietnam? Now there is a pause. Meese, the loyal Army Reserve lieutenant colonel who is proud to have a son at West Point, searches for a way to respond, and comes up with an evasive maneuver:

"In retrospect," he say, "it probably was not a wise idea for Kennedy to have gotten us into the war. He was over-enamored with the Green Berets. . . . After all, it was MacArthur -- or was it Eisenhower? -- who said we should never get involved in a land war in Asia."

He is asked the question one more time.

There is a pause, a breath, an uncomfortable nod. "Well," he says, "it is a very good question."

There will be no other answer.

"When someone talks to Ed," his wife explains, "they have a pretty good idea of what Ronald Reagan would be saying. So often it is one and the same. . . . Almost 95 percent of the time, in fact, they could speak for one another."

Ed Meese's close confidante, his wife, Ursula, has developed over the years a keen understanding about why her husband has been able to serve his boss so long and, by all accounts, so well. It is because he is able to anticipate so well just where Reagan will want his policy to come down.

In fact, she says, she really knows of just one issue on which the president and his counselor disagree: abortion.

"Ed does believe there are, at times, a need for abortion," says Ursula Meese. ". . . Cases of teen-age rape would be an example. Or a mother being really unable to support a child."

She and her husband share a concern, she said, about the damage done to individuals and to society "if you really do not want to have a child" but are not permitted to have an abortion.

"Both of us worked in Oakland," said Mrs. Meese, who was a probation counselor there. "We saw the welfare cases and the neglected kids . . . He disagrees with the president on the abortion issue. . . . but he wouldn't voice that publicly.

"He is serving the president."

"I will never forget the earthquake of '06," says Edwin Meese Jr., father of the counselor to the president. The elder Meese is 84, with firm voice and sharp mind, recalling vivid details of this tragedy that he had witnessed as a 10-year-old boy in Oakland:

"The sky across the bay glowed orange from the fire after the earthquake struck. We spread mattresses out on the floor of our church basement, and people from San Francisco came over to sleep there. Their own homes were gone. San Francisco was ordered closed to outsiders, but my father had gotten a pass from the governor to allow him to enter San Francisco, and he took me with him.

"We went over by boat, and as soon as we landed we went up to Telegraph Hill. We stood there and looked down on what was left of San Francisco. The city was still smoldering, and we just stood there and looked at it in silence.

"That was the first time I ever saw my father with tears in his eyes."

The Meeses of Oakland are members of rare stock: original Californians. They are not Irish, despite appearances, but German Lutherans. They came west as settlers long before Ronald Reagan ever dreamed of Hollywood, long before there was a Hollywood. Old California is not necessarily better than new California, but it seems less frantic, more secure, more self-confident.

"I try," says Edwin Meese Jr., "to be humbly proud."

He is sitting with his wife of 52 years, Leone, in the living room of their large apartment in a fashionable high-rise on Oakland. They have recently soild the house in which their four boys were raised, where they had learned their values and said the pledge of allegiance and their prayers every night of their boyhood lives.

The Meeses are a tradition of Republicans in public service and patriotism. Edwin Meese III's father retired not long ago after serving 25 years as the Alameda County treasurer and tax collector. His grandfather was the Oakland city treasurer and a councilman.

His great-grandfather came to the United States from Germany, and promptly headed west by wagon train to join the Gold Rush. He wrote letters to his relatives and for posterity, telling in German of the wonders of the western landscape and the magnificence of the Sierras; and when his run of gold didn't pan out, he decided to stay out west, settling in San Francisco.

The boy who grew up to be deputy president developed constant patterns in that stable, respectable world. He was the schoolboy who joined the Boy Scouts and promptly became the assistant to the scoutmaster. He was the student who saw that there was a problem and solved it by organized the grammar school "lost and found."

He was the 10-year-old who started a neighborhood newspaper, "The Weekly Herald." Ed Meese was the editor, his thress younger brothers the reporters. They mimeographed it, sold it for $1 a year, and used the profits to buy a war bond.

And he was the high school graduate who, when offered a coveted scholarship to go to Yale, told the university that he would not go unless his close friend and debating partner also got a scholarship. The university responded by giving the other youth a scholarship.

"He was always an optimist," his father recalls. "And he was somewhat of a leader in his school."

"I've never heard him say an unkind word about anyone," his mother says. ". . . He took everything pretty well in stride."

After graduating from Yale and working briefly at an iron foundry, Meese enrolled in the Boalt Law School at the University of California at Berkeley. He interrupted his legal studies to put in two years in the Army, and then returned to Boalt.

"Ed really was not very interested in law school," says Robert Wallach, a San Francisco lawyer who was a classmate of Meese at Boalt. Wallach calls himself a "prosaic Adlai Stevenson Democrat," and has remained one of Meese's closest friends. He says:

"He was always, first a reserve officer. He loved his military reserve training, and he always took his two weeks for reserve training, even when he was in the governor's office. In law school, his fascination was with administration. He spent painstaking hours making charts of the organization of the military reserve. He loved to study administration. It is something that is very important to Ed Meese."

"I keep hearing about how Ed loves organization charts and organization planning," a senior White House assistant is saying, "but the strange thing is that Ed himself is just not organized."

There is this contradiction to the life of Ed Meese. He is the fellow who sits in staff meetings and makes color-coded notes, his pens set out before him in a rainbow of inks, each having a meaning all its own. And yet he is the fellow whose briefcase is nown around the West Wing as the portable garbage can.

Meese has to be forever prodded on deadlines, colleagues say. Chief of staff James A. Baker III and his virtually co-equal deputy chief of staff, Michael Deaver, both have been heard worrying aloud over whether things resting in Meese's office will get done on time, and whether he will follow through on those matters that require another level of action.

Yet he remains very much the organization man.

In his eight years in the Alameda County district attorney's office, Meese was always a worker, never a star.

"High status around here is achieved by trying a lot of heavy cases . . . the felony trial stuff . . . by being a jet pilot of a trial lawyer," says Alameda County District Attorney Lowell Jensen.

"Ed didn't get a lot of big trial cases. But he rose to a position of leadership here, and he did it the organization way, as a doer and a worker, someone who was willing to take on the projects that others didn't care to do and then do them well."

Jensen, who served with Meese as a deputy in the office and remained his close friend long after that, is moving to Washington. At the urging of Meese, Jensen has been appointed as the new assistant attorney general in charge of the Criminal Division.

As an assistant district attorney, Meese did try cases, but he also worked on the development of a drug-abuse testing program, served as liaison to the grand jury, and was a representative for the state district attorneys' association in Sacramento. In other words, he was a part-time lobbyist.

"Ed was very big in the Junior Statesmen and the Jaycees, and that is what led to the legislative job," says Jensen. That legislative job, in turn, is what led to Meese's first appointment on the Reagan staff, as the governor's assistant for extradition and clemency matters.

But by that time, he already had picked up a bit of experience in advising governors.

Dec. 2, 1964. Assistant District Attorney Meese has driven to the University of California campus at Berkeley to lend a hand to some of the senior figures from the district attorney's office.

They are trying to figure out, along with the campus police and the highway patrol, what to do about these hundreds of students who have taken over the administration building. Sproul Hall, in the culmination of a protest that had been festering for months: the Free Speech Movement. Edmund G. (Pat) Brown Sr., is governor, and he telephones for advice.

"I gave a rundown on the situation to Pat Brown," Meese recalls. "I told him that it was the unanimous recommendation (of the various law enforcement officials on the scene) that the people in the building should be arrested and taken out of there. I told him that if they were allowed to stay there would be another mob scene, even bigger, the next day."

When it is over, 773 have been arrested, and the problem becomes: how can that many people ever be brought to trial in a manner that is both judicial and judicious, and not prohibitively expensive or time consuming?

Meese comes up with the answer. After negotiations with the defense attorneys, both sides agree on stipulated evidence covering one group of 155 defendents, evidence which can be used again for everyone else.

"In effect, we had a trial in an envelope," recalls Lowell Jensen.

All defendents were convicted of trespassing and resisting arrest. Stanley Golde, then a defense attorney for the students and now a Superior Court judge, adds, "Forgetting philosophy, it was a beautiful job of logistics."

In 1969, Berkeley was the scene of another protracted protest, this one violent. The issue was over whether people would be allowed to cultivate as parkland -- they called it People's Park -- a small tract the authorities sought to put to other use.

As days passed, protests grew and passions rose and tempers flamed.Meese visited the area on several occasions and, according to Jensen, it was Meese's recommendation that prompted Reagan to declare a state of emergency in the area.

During one pitched street battle, debris was thrown at police, and a police shotgun blast killed one civilian, James Rector.

"His death was a tragedy," says Jensen. ". . . People's Park was not handled properly (by the police). It seemed to get out of hand, and the decisions and management (by law enforcement officials) were reactive. Buckshot was in those police shotguns, instead of birdshot, which is what they should have been loaded with. It was a tragedy."

Meese talks a different line.

"James Rector deserved to die." Meese was quoted as having told a Los Angeles Times reporter last May.

The statement has stunned many of those who know Meese well.

"If Ed said that, it surprises me," says Jensen. "Ed had been very much into the business of restraining emergency response."

"I'm shocked if he said that," says Stanley Golde. "That's totally out of character for Ed. That's not the guy I know."

"It pains me very much to hear that Ed said that," says Wallach, his close friend since those law school days.

Meese confirms that he did say that and that this in fact is his opinion of the Rector death.

"My feeling is that if a guy was trying to kill a policeman, he should expect to get shot," Meese said. "I was speaking in the context of what you can expect to happen when you try to assault a policeman. That was the context in which I was speaking."

Meese repeated the view, recited by various law enforcement officials who testified that police officials had seen Rector throw a sharply pointed, triangular piece of metal at a policeman. But this account was widely disputed by other testimony.

Jensen, for example, says that it has never been proven whether Rector ever threw anything at the police on that day he was killed.

Says Meese: "Well, he wasn't up there as a spectator."

"There's a lot of cop in Eddie Meese. And there's a lot of little guy, too."

Robert Bernard's voice is heavy with admiration. All along the trail that leads through Meese's life there are people like Bernard, a retired investigator from the district attorney's office, with stories about nice things, personal things, that Meese went out of his way to do for them.

"Let me tell you about what happened at a big fancy dinner that someone threw in Eddie's honor in January, because he was going to Washington. It was at the Bel Air Country Club -- I mean, you don't get any ritzier than that. And he must have seen to it that I was invited.

"So i go down there to the Bel Air and I figure I'm sucking hind tit on the hog there. Let's face it, everyone there can buy and sell me twice. Everyone is in pinstrips and tuxes . . . And then Eddie Meese comes over to our table and he tells all of the big shots there, 'I want you all to meet Bob Bernard, the greatest investigator in the world.' And he tells them all about our last case together . . . He did that to make me feel easy, because he knew I was out of my class. He made me feel seven feet tall."

During his days in the district attorney's office and later as Reagan's secretary on clemency and extradiction, Meese became convinced that the death penalty is a valuable deterrent to crime.

While he worked side-by-side with Reagan on the decision not to order a stay in the execution of Aaron Mitchell, convicted of killing a policeman, it was a decision recommended and supported by Meese.

He recalls the emotional elemency hearing, in which Mitchell's mother was led sobbing from the chamber, and he recalls the last minutes and the moment when the execution was done. But he insists it was not a wrenching or even difficult experience. w

"It is," Meese says, "part of the job."

Why exactly does this counselor to the president have such a fondness for police work? Meese's explanation has all the thrills and chills of a time-and-motion efficiency analysis.

"Police work is fascinating management study," he says. "It is a study of how management decisions are made in nonroutine situations. It is a type of management decision-making that is far different from those of industry.

"Consider this: it is relatively easy to make management decisions if you are an executive in a manufacturing company. You will know, if you are in a canning business, for example, that you are going to stamp out so many cans every day for six days out of every week. It is a routine and predictable management situation. But police work is nonroutine, and that is why police decision-making is so fascinating."

Sense of humor? Ed Meese has a wonderful sense of humor, they all say. Truly funny. For example? The follow-up question draws only blanks. Well, he's just funny, very witty, but I just can't think of an example.

Ed Meese is, in fact, very easy to meet and very pleasant to be with. The laughter wells up and ours forth as though drawn hydraulically by the pumping of his handshake. "Heh, heh, heh, hi, good to see you!" It is not unlike a cheerful Rotarian passing out songbooks, and he puts his visitors immediately at ease. There is light banter, and light laughter, and it is only after awhile that it is clear that the strongest point of Meese's sense of humor is his ability to laugh at the jokes of others.

In the collected papers of Edwin Meese III that are an adjunct to the collected papers of Ronald Reagan at the Hoover Institution on the campus of Stanford University, there is a file that is the private handwritten notes Meese used when he gave his speeches during his years as an assistant to the governor.

Nothing was actually written out in full, except for the opening jokes. There was a whole page at the front of a speech to a cadet training class of the California Highway Patrol that was the account, word for word, of the one about the farmer who brought a prize bull, much sought for stud service, but who then used the bull to pull a plow. Why use a prize bull for pulling a plow rather than for stud service? the farmer is asked, "Because," he replies, "Life on a farm isn't all romance." To which Meese added the segue that the life of a pliceman is not unlike the life of that farmer.

And there were others: "In New York, they don't ask you the time -- they steal your watch."

Also: "Today's headliner is yesterday's liberal who was mugged last night."

"Hi, come on in," Meese says cheerily, rising from his place at his office conference table to offer a firm handshake. Meese turned his attention to his interviewer, and to a triple-decker club sandwich that had just been placed before him. "Hope you don't mind if I feed my ulcer while we talk."

"Do you really have an ulcer?" the reporter asks.

"No, heh, heh, heh," says Meese. "I don't give ulcers, I give them."

In fact, it is the supreme compliment to Meese that those who have worked with him in his years in Sacramento and his weeks in Washington say emphatically that Meese is not the sort of man who gives ulcers to others. Politically Meese is a mixed breed: ideologically conservative, yet a pragmatic compromiser.

"Bob Haldeman has enemies," says Martin Anderson, a vetran of the Nixon White House who is now the top domestic policy aide of the Reagan White House. "Ed Meese won't have enemies. It's not his way."

Meese's way, and some regard it as a flaw, is to portray things somethimes as rosier than they really are. He sometimes brushes over real disputes with a gloss of agreeability, that takes the form of dissembling.

Proably the most arduous of all of Meese's compromise efforts came in those years of the Reagan governorship, in a controversy over the California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA) program, whose activist lawyers were aiding poor migrant laborers and Cesar Chavez' union and aggravating agribusiness interests.

A CRLA lawsuit overturned Reagan's budget cuts for state Medicaid. Meese started out as a hardliner bitterly opposing the antipoverty legal aid program, and wound up scrambling for the middle ground in a pitched battle between the Reagan administration of Sacramento and the Nixon administration of Washington.

Meese had long supported the concept of giving legal aid to the poor, but the work of the CRLA was too much for him and for Reagan's ardent supporters in big business and big agriculture. So, in 1970, Meese turned to perhaps the most conservative member of his law school class at Berkley, onetime John Birch Society member Lewis Uhler, to help him put the CRLA out of business.

Uhler, as state director of the Office of Economic Opportunity, produced a voluminous report of alleged abuses by the CRLA, and Reagan used this as the basis for vetoing federal funding. Under OEO regulations, a governor could veto a project in his state, but the funding could continue if the president formally overrode the veto.

Uhler, a bomb-thrower of the right, vehemently urged Reagan to be unyeilding. "Draw the line and say go to hell . . . play confrontational politics back at Nixon," is the way he recalls his advice.

Meese decided to try to work out a compromise instead.

But the real problem was Nixon's director of the federal OEO, who was insisting that the program deserved funding. That was Frank Carlucci, who is now enjoying greater glories as Reagan's deputy secretary of defense, a nomination he received despite conservative protests, but with quiet backing from Meese.

Meese and Carlucci entered into a lengthy series of negotiations. Carlucci appointed a three-judge panel to study the Reagan administration's allegations. When it became clear that the judge's study was not going his way, Reagan fired off a blistering letter to Carlucci, with copies to Nixon, Vice President Spiro T. Agnew, Attorney General John M. Mitchell and domestic policy chief John D. Ehrlichmann.

Reagan said he was "very much disturbed" by Carlucci's agency and that it was apparently trying to "curry favor with the poverty-law establishment and to appease certain ultraliberal members of Congress."

After the three-judge panel produced a report finding little to substantiate the charges of the Reagan investigation. Meese and Carlucci conferred anew and worked out a compromise.

Reagan would agree to withdraw his veto, permitting the funding of this antipoverty program he so detested, and Carlucci would issue a report that would give Reagan a lot of rhetoric the governor could then use to celebrate his vindication.

And that is the way it played out. The CRLA got its money and claimed victory. Reagan got his rhetoric and claimed victory.

"Actually," Meese says, "I considered it more of a draw."

Ten years later, in the new federal budget produced by the new Reagan White House, the legal services program was scheduled to be abolished. Meese maintains that the decision was made by the cutter, not him.

Those were the days when Meese was known around Sacramento as the "deputy governor."

"He was able to make decisions and take some pressure off the governor," says former Reagan state cabinet member Gordon Luce. And Wallach, Meese's longtime friend, adds that in many repects, "Ed Meese was the governor."

Many of the judicial appointments in California were really made by Ed Meese," says Wallach, who was on the board that made recommendations to Meese for judgeship appointments to Meese.

Reagan administration state judgeships had to be screened formally by the state bar association, and informally by the Republican Party, Wallach said. A liberal Democrat, Wallach concedes that Reagan's successor, Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr., has appointed more women and minorities to judgeships than did Reagan.

"Ed appointed white middle-class males, that's true, but in some ways his appointments were even more courageous," says Wallach, "because he appointed some who were registered Democrats, some who were of no political affiliation, but all of them people that the Republican screening committee couldn't find any negatives that were ground for rejection. So, no, we didn't go out and find blacks or Chicanos or women, because they'd be torpedoed. But Ed's appointments were courageous in their own way."

Meese became know in those gubernatorial years for his ability to have things come out his own way through persuasion rather than command. In the governor's cabinet meetings then, as in the president's Cabinet meetings now, he would often sit back and keep his own counsel, preferring instead to summarize what others were saying and gently but firmly move the meeting along the road of his choosing.

Participants then and now say they frequently are not sure just where Meese stands on the issue on hand, yet he rarely seems disappointed in the final decision.

Rep. Anthony C. Beilenson (D-Calif.), who made the transcontinental trek from Sacramento to Washington four years before Meese did, offers a special perspective.

In 1971, Beilenson was a liberal Democrat in the Califonia Senate, and, as chairman of the health and welfare committee, spent two weeks locked in negotiations with Meese and and his deputies. The sessions went on day and night in a windowless room, where the participants took all of their meals at the conference table and didn't quit until they had produced a welfare reform bill, a classic liberal-conservative clash.

A decade later, Beilenson offers an unhesitating testimonial to the man who sat on the other side of the table.

"Ed Meese was the general in charge of his troops in those negotiations. And my recollections of him are all extremely good . . . . He is a flexible-in-the-right-kind-of-way conservative person. . . . I feel immensely better about Reagan being president because Meese is there as his counselor."