Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) yesterday killed any chance for confirmation of Edwin Meese III as attorney general this year by removing his nomination from the committee's calendar.
President Reagan, if reelected, could resubmit the nomination when the new Congress convenes in January. Meese has continued to serve as counselor to the president since his nomination was put on hold last March.
The Judiciary Committee deferred action on the nomination pending the outcome of an investigation by independent counsel Jacob A. Stein into questions about Meese's finances and other issues that surfaced during nomination hearings. Meese has denied any wrongdoing.
Sources have said they expect the report to be released later this month, and the Los Angeles Times yesterday quoted sources as saying Stein has found no criminal violations by Meese.
As he was boarding a helicopter yesterday for Camp David for the weekend, Reagan was asked whether he would resubmit the Meese nomination. "Yes, I have not seen the report yet, as no one has. But, barring anything unforeseen, and I don't expect anything of that kind, I haven't changed my mind about it," Reagan said.
Thurmond spokesman Mark Goodin said the senator decided against considering the nomination this year to avoid election-year politics.
Asked about Thurmond's decision, Reagan said, "I can understand the crowded agenda that they have with regard to the election and the necessity to adjourn for campaigning and so forth, so I don't think there's anything unusual about that at all."
Goodin said Thurmond made his decision early yesterday because other members of the Judiciary Committee have made clear that, even if the Stein report cites no criminal violations, they want to reopen the confirmation hearings to examine questions about Meese's judgment and the appearance of impropriety in his financial dealings.
Congress is scheduled to adjourn Oct. 5 for the year.
"The senator is removing the nomination from the agenda because he feels that at the present time, any new hearings would be overly politicized in an election year. It wouldn't do justice to the nomination," Goodin said.
In response to questions, Goodin said that Thurmond's action was not prompted by the White House.
"This was a purely independent decision. He did not consult with the president," Goodin said, adding that the White House was informed of the decision yesterday.
Goodin said Thurmond has not seen Stein's report and has not been told officially or unofficially when it will be released or what its conclusions are.
Last March, Attorney General William French Smith asked a three-judge federal panel to name an independent counsel under provisions of the 1978 Ethics in Government Act to investigate a number of questions about Meese, including whether he had any role in obtaining federal jobs for persons who had assisted him financially.