Attorney General Edwin Meese III testified yesterday that most of his discussions about the Wedtech Corp. were with his close friend E. Bob Wallach and that he had trouble remembering similar, documented conversations with former White House aide Lyn Nofziger.
Appearing as a prosecution witness at Nofziger's conflict-of-interest trial in U.S. District Court here, Meese said repeatedly during 2 1/2 hours of testimony that he did not have "a specific recollection" of various talks and meetings that led to Nofziger's indictment on illegal lobbying charges within a year of leaving his White House job in early 1982.
At the same time, Meese, who was then counselor to President Reagan, attested to the White House's interest in ensuring that Wedtech got "fair treatment" in its efforts to win a defense contract and in pressing two other causes that Nofziger and his new Washington consulting firm had been paid to promote.
Meese's testimony concluded independent counsel James C. McKay's case. U.S. District Court Judge Thomas A. Flannery said he will deal with midtrial motions today and ordered the jurors to report back Thursday afternoon.
Nofziger has been accused of illegal lobbying in 1982 on two occasions for the now-bankrupt Wedtech and twice for other clients.
Under intensive investigation himself because of his dealings with Wallach, Meese took the stand at 1:35 p.m. and looked up at Nofziger with a smile when asked if they were acquainted.
Nofziger smiled back broadly as Meese recounted how they had met more than 21 years ago when Reagan, California's governor-elect, asked Meese to join a staff where Nofziger was already installed as communications director.
Meese has known Wallach even longer. As in the Wedtech case, memos from the San Francisco lawyer to Meese play a central role in the investigation McKay is conducting of their involvement in a $1 billion Iraqi pipeline project. The focus of McKay's investigation is a 1985 memo in which Wallach allegedly outlined a plan to make payments to the Israeli Labor Party to cement a pledge that Israeli forces would not sabotage the pipeline.
Meese said in a public statement Monday that the dispute centers on just 10 words in one of two documents Wallach gave him that day and that he does not recall having read them at the time. His testimony yesterday, especially on cross-examination by Nofziger lawyer Robert Plotkin, served to underscore those points.
Wallach, indicted in December on charges of taking under-the-table payments from Wedtech in order to influence Meese, was "a prolific letter writer," Meese said, and peppered him with memos.
Meese estimated that he "read carefully" only about 10 percent of what Wallach sent him and "scanned" the rest although he said the attention he paid "would vary from document to document."
"Many of the matters . . . were simply informational to me and advice. Those I read myself," Meese said. He said he usually kept the memos to himself, occasionally referring particular subjects for follow-up by aides.
Meese said he did that in the spring or summer of 1981 when Wallach, as a consultant for Wedtech as well as a friend, complained to him that the Bronx company, then known as the Welbilt Electronic Die Corp., was not getting a fair shake in its efforts to win a multimillion-dollar engine contract.
Meese said he told his chief deputy, Ed Thomas, to look into the matter and on July 13, 1981, another aide, Ken Cribb, was assigned to "stay on top of the situation." Meese, in turn, reminded his secretary to "bring it up again in 30 days."
By 1982, however, the Army remained distrustful of Welbilt and the company hired Nofziger and his new partner, Mark Bragg, as consultants.
The first count against Nofziger rests on an April 8, 1982, note he sent to Meese in which he said that Meese "or even Reagan" should step in to help the company. Recalling a 1980 Reagan pledge to revitalize the South Bronx where Wedtech was located, Nofziger said, "Ed, I really think it would be a blunder not to award that contract to Welbilt."
Meese said yesterday that he had "no independent recollection" of the points made in the memo or of an April 5, 1982, meeting with Nofziger to which it alluded. He also said he did not remember telling his new top deputy, James E. Jenkins, to look into it.
McKay showed Meese an April 16, 1982, memo Jenkins wrote another White House aide. It began, "Lyn Nofziger has asked Ed Meese to urge the Army to award this contract to Welbilt instead of to Chrysler. The Bronx needs the jobs."
"Does that refresh your recollection?" McKay asked. "No sir, it doesn't," Meese replied.