Attorney General Edwin Meese III said yesterday that he saw nothing improper in the Reagan administration's ties to the Teamsters union and that neither he nor any other administration official had done anything "to assist anyone involved with organized crime."
Meese's remarks came one day after the President's Commission on Organized Crime issued a report accusing the administration of creating an appearance of impropriety in its dealings with Teamsters President Jackie Presser.
In the report, which named the Teamsters as one of four major unions dominated by organized crime, the commission cited long delays in resolving a Justice Department investigation involving Presser and voiced alarm at Presser's contacts with the administration in that context.
Meese, who as a White House counselor had repeated contacts with Presser, told a news conference yesterday that he was "precluded from talking about anything related to Mr. Presser because of the ongoing cases which involve him."
But, Meese added, "at no time have I, nor, to my knowledge, any member of the administration done anything which was designed to assist or aid anyone involved with organized crime. The fact that people did meet with labor leaders was certainly not designed or intended to in any way interfere with the proper investigation of organized crime."
Presser, who was elected Teamsters president in 1983, was a member of Reagan's pre-inaugural transition team in 1980 and the only major labor leader to support the president's reelection in 1984. Meese attended a welcome-to-Washington celebration for Presser at Teamsters headquarters in June 1983, and has accompanied Reagan to the Teamsters building to thank Presser and other labor leaders for their backing.
The White House had no comment yesterday on the crime commission's criticisms, but one government source said that officials there had "gone bananas" over it. A Justice Department source said "grumbling and groaning" was heard there, too.
Meanwhile, a federal grand jury in Cleveland continued its investigation of the Justice Department's controversial decision last year to drop a recommended prosecution of Presser on charges of embezzling union funds. The prosecution was reportedly vetoed because of Presser's role since the 1970s as an informant for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The crime commission sought Presser's testimony at its 1985 hearings but he invoked the Fifth Amendment. The panel subsequently sought permission to compel him to testify under a grant of immunity, but Justice Department officials, it was confirmed yesterday, blocked that attempt because of the Cleveland investigation.
Meese said he has instructed officials to develop a plan within 90 days to implement the crime commission's recommendations for combating the influence of organized crime in the marketplace. He said one proposal, for federal decertification of mob-dominated unions, "certainly sounds like a reasonable idea at first blush."
Staff writer Howard Kurtz contributed to this report.