Assistant Attorney General William Bradford Reynolds plans to tell a Senate committee today that "his recollection was faulty" on a disputed point in his sworn testimony before the panel but that he "did not lie," a Justice Department spokesman said yesterday.
The disputed testimony came during Senate Judiciary Committee hearings this month on Reynolds' nomination as associate attorney general. The panel is reopening the hearings today, at the request of Sen. Charles McC. Mathias Jr. (R-Md.), to explore charges by several civil rights lawyers that Reynolds did not tell the truth when he testified that he had met with opponents or opposing lawyers in two voting rights cases.
Growing doubt about whether the committee will approve the nomination has been increased by a request from Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.) that the White House withdraw Reynolds' name. A spokesman said DeConcini, while officially undecided, told an administration official that the nomination is "under a cloud" because of questions about whether Reynolds has upheld the law as head of the Civil Rights Division.
DeConcini is one of the two most conservative Democrats on the committee and the GOP often counts on his vote to offset defections by such liberal Republicans as Mathias. Republicans have a 10-to-8 majority on the panel.
"The Democrats who oppose this thing now smell blood," a Senate Republican official said.
Justice Department spokesman Terry H. Eastland said Reynolds had erred when he told the committee that he had met with opponents of a Louisiana election redistricting plan that ruled out a majority-black congressional district in New Orleans. Reynolds did not challenge the plan, which was later struck down in court.
Eastland said it was Reynolds' staff that met with the opponents. "Literally, he was incorrect," Eastland said, adding that Reynolds "did not have an intention to deceive . . . . Certainly, Brad Reynolds did not lie and he will demonstrate that."
On a second matter, Reynolds testified that he had consulted the attorneys for black voters in 11 redistricting cases in Mississippi before deciding not to challenge the local election laws, which also were struck down. Lawyers in eight of the cases later said they never talked to Reynolds. Eastland said Reynolds had talked to an opposing attorney in one of the 11 cases and would clarify this today.
Reynolds, meanwhile, issued a 56-page rebuttal to criticism by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law that he has repeatedly failed to enforce civil rights laws. Reynolds said he had been assailed because he rejects the remedies of "the pro-busing/pro-quota lobby."
"This administration, and I personally, have dared to question this orthodoxy, and the reaction has been a barrage of charges and criticism from the civil rights 'establishment'," Reynolds said. He said opponents have "denounced as either uncaring or -- worse -- bigoted all those who raise the slightest question about such remedial techniques."
Reynolds, who has come to personify Reagan's civil rights agenda, also tried to get a Justice Department job in the Carter administration. Griffin B. Bell, who was President Jimmy Carter's attorney general, said Reynolds, then a corporate lawyer, had a mutual friend ask him to consider naming Reynolds to head the Antitrust Division in 1977.
John H. Shenefield, Carter's antitrust chief, called Reynolds' job application "puzzling. If he believes the particular version of civil rights that he now articulates, and I assume he does, it's hard to see how he would have been very comfortable working shoulder to shoulder with [former assistant attorney general] Drew Days or the kind of person Jimmy Carter would appoint to head the Civil Rights Division."