EDWIN MEESE III does not have the same problem. He will, according to his lawyer, seek reimbursement from the government for the legal expenses he incurred while he was the subject of investigation by an independent counsel. Mr. Meese is entitled to that reimbursement, both under the specific terms of a 1982 law and under general principles of fairness. He was subjected to this lengthy process because of charges raised when he held high federal office; he defended himself and was vindicated when the independent counsel found no reason to bring any action against him.
In all these respects Mr. Meese's case is similar to that of Hamilton Jordan, who was the subject of such an investigation in 1979 and 1980. But Mr. Jordan has not been and seems unlikely to be reimbursed, as he would be under the law as it was rewritten in 1982. That's ironic, because the law was rewritten in very large part because a bipartisan majority of legislators became convinced it worked unfairly in cases such as Mr. Jordan's.
So they changed the name of the investigating authority from special prosecutor to independent counsel. They made it clear that the appointment of such a counsel was not required automatically by the publication of unsubstantiated allegations against an official, but could be made only after the attorney general considered the specificity of the charges and the credibility of the source of information. And they provided for reimbursement of legal fees when the independent counsel finds no basis for bringing a criminal case in the charges.
All these changes operated in Mr. Meese's favor. It was not even clear in his case that appointment of an independent counsel was required by law (that was done at Mr. Meese's own request), and now he's eligible for reimbursement of legal fees. But Mr. Jordan, who was subjected to an investigation that surely would not have been required under the 1982 law, is not eligible for any reimbursement, according to a court ruling this week. The ruling probably won't be reversed on appeal. But it can and should be reversed by an act of Congress. Outgoing Attorney General William French Smith might make it one order of business to support and seek bipartisan support for a measure to right this wrong.