An article yesterday stated incorrectly that defense lawyers in the trial of former White House aide Lyn Nofziger asked for dismissal of "some of the charges" against him. They sought dismissal of all the charges. (Published 2/6/88)
Lawyers for former White House aide Lyn Nofziger began presenting evidence at his conflict-of-interest trial yesterday after U.S. District Court Judge Thomas A. Flannery rejected their request to dismiss some of the charges against him.
Flannery indicated that he had reservations about some elements of the prosecution's case, but held that it should proceed to a jury verdict on all counts.
"The big problem with this case is we are dealing with a statute that is hardly a model of clarity," Flannery said. "And the government's evidence on some counts is weaker than it is on others."
He said he might entertain renewed defense motions for directed verdicts of acquittal "depending" on what the jury decides.
Nofziger has been accused of illegal lobbying at the White House in 1982 in violation of the Ethics in Government Act. The law prohibits former high-ranking officials from lobbying their old agencies on matters of "direct and substantial interest" to the particular agency for a year after leaving.
At a midtrial hearing Wednesday, Flannery had expressed doubt about whether independent counsel James C. McKay had proved that the White House had such an interest in an Army contract for the Wedtech Corp. as of April 8, 1982. That is the date that Nofziger allegedly committed his first violation -- by sending then- presidential counselor Edwin Meese III a note warning him that "it would be a blunder" not to give the award to Wedtech and urging Meese to help the company.
McKay, who rested his case Tuesday, protested that "the record was replete" with evidence that White House officials wanted to make good on a 1980 campaign promise President Reagan had made to revitalize the South Bronx, where Wedtech, then the Welbilt Electronic Die Corp., was located.
McKay pointed out that Pier F. Talenti, a wealthy Detroit executive who was a volunteer in Nofziger's office, had visited the Wedtech plant in August 1981 and reportedly tried to drum up White House interest in the company.
"But you never called Talenti," the judge reminded McKay. "You can't rely much on what he did . . . . Why didn't you call him if you thought he was so important?"
The first defense witness yesterday, Paul Russo, who kept watch on New York as part of his job in Nofziger's Office of Political Affairs, said he couldn't remember just what Talenti did and saw him only sporadically.
Now U.S. ambassador to Barbados and the eastern Caribbean, Russo said no one ever discussed Welbilt with him. He indicated that his only firm memory of Talenti -- described in prosecution testimony as "sort of the ethnic coordinator" for Nofziger -- was a speech Talenti gave "at the request of an ethnic organization and they didn't like the remark he made."
The next witness, Michelle Davis, a former administrative assistant in Nofziger's office, described it as a chaotic place with "tons of volunteers," four or five mail deliveries a day and phones ringing constantly.
Talenti, she added, was "not a pervasive presence," sometimes showing up for only an hour, sometimes for half a day, sometimes gone for two or three weeks. But she said he did wind up with an office of his own.
Richard S. Williamson, former head of the White House Office of Intergovermental Affairs, testified about a Jan. 21, 1982, meeting in the Cabinet Room that Wedtech founder and president John Mariotta attended.
Williamson said the meeting was called after a proposed trip by Reagan to Baltimore to discuss federal tax incentives for depressed urban areas had to be canceled because of a snowstorm. McKay indicated that Mariotta had been invited to Baltimore, too, but Williamson said he didn't remember that.
Mariotta was photographed at the White House meeting making what Williamson called "an impassioned speech" about the need for effective urban action while Reagan, Vice President Bush and others listened attentively.
Williamson said all such meetings are photographed and that Mariotta was just one of 1,220 state and local people, mostly officials, who met with Reagan his first year in office. But when asked how many of the others were business people like Mariotta, Williamson said, "probably about half a dozen."