Labor Secretary Raymond Donovan this week criticized "elected officials" who, he said, believe in the "wonderland school of justice that stands for judgment now, trial later." There is no question but that Mr. Donovan has suffered prolonged and perhaps avoidable embarrassment from the slow leak of derogatory information about him over the last year and a half. But his anger is misplaced.
The elected officials to whom Mr. Donovan referred are presumably the members of the Senate who have themselves been severely embarrassed by gradual illumination of the fact that, in voting to confirm Mr. Donovan last year, they did so without an opportunity to weigh highly relevant information.
Let us be quite clear about the nature of this information. None of it, so far as is now known, establishes any criminal culpability on Mr. Donovan's part. Some of it does allege that Mr. Donovan or his firm engaged in possibly illegal activities involving labor payoffs, bid-rigging and other questionable labor practices. Other charges merely link Mr. Donovan socially or through business with people known or said to be involved in organized crime. Most of the information was gathered by the FBI or other agencies through informants, some of whom have not been publicly named and some of whom are now dead.
There are many different allegations, but none of them has been proved in any sense--legal or otherwise. Determining whether cause exists to suspect Mr. Donovan of indictable offenses is now the job of Leon Silverman, the special prosecutor appointed last January. Even if Mr. Silverman should find evidence of wrongdoing, no legal judgment can be made without regular court proceedings.
The Senate, however, had a role in the Donovan matter quite different from the determination of legal innocence or guilt. At the start of the Reagan administration, the Senate was called upon to confirm the president's judgment that Mr. Donovan was fit to be his principal labor adviser and a member of the Cabinet. Association with anyone, even mobsters, is no proof of criminal involvement. But such ties--particularly if they involve labor dealings --were certainly pertinent to the Senate's decision.
It is now clear that important information was withheld from the Senate by incoming administration officials at the time of the confirmation hearings. Senators were misled both then and subsequently with respect to the thoroughness of the FBI's initial investigation and the full extent of the information available to the administration.
The delayed release of that evidence has troubled Mr. Donovan, but it has also, quite properly, troubled the Senate. If Mr. Donovan has been ill served by the process of his confirmation and subsequent investigation, his quarrel should be with the administration which directed that process and which must now decide upon his fitness for continued service.