Former White House aide Michael K. Deaver, faced with growing criticism of his multimillion-dollar Washington consulting business, called for an independent counsel yesterday to investigate his lobbying activities for the Canadian government and other foreign and domestic clients.
Deaver's request came as Attorney General Edwin Meese III, asked last week to seek such an outside investigation, announced that he would disqualify himself from the matter because of his longtime association with Deaver.
Deputy Attorney General D. Lowell Jensen now must decide whether the Justice Department should conduct a preliminary probe of Deaver and whether the evidence warrants asking a three-judge panel to name an independent counsel.
Deaver said in a statement that "elementary due process and fairness to me and my family require appointment of an independent counsel. While I'm grateful for the president's continuing support, the climate has become such that this is the only way to resolve the issue fairly."
President Reagan told reporters Friday that a request by five Democratic senators that Meese seek an independent counsel was "ridiculous."
Deaver, who resigned as White House deputy chief of staff last May, said in his statement that he has tried during and after his government service "to comply with all of the ethical rules and regulations concerning government employes."
Deaver is the subject of two investigations into whether he violated federal conflict-of-interest laws in representing Canada on acid-rain pollution, an issue on which he worked while in the White House. The General Accounting Office is investigating for Congress, and the Office of Government Ethics referred its inquiry to the Justice Department Friday.
That referral and the senators' request require the Justice Department to consider seeking what would be the sixth independent counsel named under the 1978 Ethics in Government Act. Deaver's announcement could speed that process, which can take several months.
Deaver's move mirrors a similar announcement by Meese on March 22, 1984, when he asked then-attorney general William French Smith to seek an independent counsel to examine allegations of impropriety that surrounded Meese's nomination as attorney general.
The Justice Department, then conducting a preliminary investigation of Meese, quickly sought the counsel, whose report that Meese had committed no criminal violations cleared the way for his confirmation.
Deaver's attorney, Herbert J. Miller, who has represented former president Richard M. Nixon, requested the outside probe in a letter to Meese yesterday. But Meese told a news conference that he has recused himself from the case "because of my longtime association with Mr. Deaver, which goes back almost 20 years to California."
Deaver worked for Meese in state government when Reagan was governor of California, and the two men worked side by side in the White House when Meese was presidential counselor during Reagan's first term. Meese said it would be "improper" for him to comment on allegations against Deaver.
Federal law prohibits a federal employe from representing anyone before his former agency for one year after leaving the government, from lobbying on any issue in which he personally and substantially participated and from negotiating for work with anyone affected by his job before resigning from that post.
One Canadian source told The Washington Post last week that Deaver discussed the possibility of representing Canada before he left the White House. The allegation was strongly denied by Canadian government spokesmen, who said the first discussion of what became Deaver's $105,000-a-year contract took place last May 16, six days after Deaver resigned.
A White House report to the GAO says Deaver met with a top adviser to Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney in February 1985 to discuss the special envoys on acid rain that both countries appointed almost two weeks later, according to sources.
Drew Lewis, the former transportation secretary named as the U.S. envoy, said yesterday that Deaver's lobbying for Canada's position in seeking a cleanup of acid rain "was next to nothing." He called the controversy "a big to-do about nothing."
"If Mike did anything to help, he didn't make it clear to me," Lewis, now chairman of Union Pacific Railroad, told United Press International. He termed "totally inaccurate" published reports that Deaver had urged him to accept the special envoy post.
In the report, Lewis and Canadian envoy William Davis suggested a multimillion-dollar cleanup effort to combat acid-rain damage to wildlife, forests and lakes in the northeastern United States and Canada. Reagan embraced the recommendation, although he had previously expressed doubts about the validity of studies on acid rain.
In another development yesterday, William J. Anderson, director of the GAO's government division, said Canada's refusal to provide key information in his agency's probe of Deaver is "atypical."
"The Canadians have always cooperated," Anderson said. "They're not acting the same way in this case. I guess we never touched their sensitivities in quite this fashion in prior dealings."
Canadian Embassy spokesman Bruce Phillips said Friday that it was Canada's "longstanding policy" to refuse to cooperate with congressional investigations.
He said yesterday that "exceptions have been made . . . on a case-by-case basis" but that Canada is refusing to disclose "the nature of communications between Mr. Deaver and ourselves. It's what any self-respecting government would decline to tell anybody."
In an independent counsel's probe of Deaver, Phillips said that "our position would be the same" and that Canada would invoke "diplomatic privilege.