Last April, Republican Sen. Paul S. Trible of Virginia said that the nomination of Edwin C. Meese III for attorney general should be withdrawn because of "substantial questions" about Meese's fitness for the job.
Yesterday, Trible voted for the nomination, saying, "In the final analysis, I believe the president should be able to select his own chief law enforcement officer . . . . I think Mr. Meese will be an outstanding attorney general."
Trible said that when he called for the White House to withdraw the nomination last spring, he was not passing judgment on Meese.
Trible had said early yesterday that he was still undecided on how he would vote. After the vote, he said he felt that "circumstances are substantially different now than they were many months ago." He said that many of the questions raised about Meese have been answered.
John W. Warner, the other Republican senator from Virginia, said he supported Meese's nomination because "a president is entitled to his choice for attorney general."
Another area Republican, Sen. Charles McC. Mathias of Maryland, waited until last week before deciding to vote for Meese's nomination. He said on Thursday he would do so because "nothing is more conducive to a good conscience as the suspicion of being watched."
Mathias called the Meese nomination a "most uncomfortable situation," and he said that "many of the charges against Mr. Meese are serious and worthy of the attention they have received."
Mathias said the "appearance of impropriety" was a serious matter and that the Senate should monitor Meese's performance.
Maryland's Democratic senator, Paul S. Sarbanes, opposed Meese's appointment.
Sarbanes said that the attorney general is supposed to be the "legal conscience" of the administration, something more difficult to do if that person is part of the inner circle.
Sarbanes said he would not object to someone who is a close associate of the president being appointed attorney general, as long as he or she was "qualified, able and of high standings." But he said he does not believe Meese meets those standards.
He said the Senate was asking the wrong question. Instead of asking what disqualifies Meese to be attorney general, the Senate should have asked what qualifies him for the job, Sarbanes said.
"It doesn't follow that to be unindictable for a criminal offense qualifies him to be attorney general," Sarbanes said in reference to an independent counsel's report that there was no evidence Meese violated criminal laws in various financial and other dealings questioned by the Senate.