HAVE YOU ever knowingly violated a federal statute? Anyone in your immediate family? Next door neighbor?
A random sample of the American population [or so we might hope] would probably reveal a fairly low number of affirmatives to these questions, a quick survey of Reagan appointees could turn up something else again.
This time the name is Meese. Nominated for the prestigious post of Attorney General, Edwin R. Meese III discovered he could only proceed down Pennsylvania Avenue to Justice after a laborious detour on Capitol Hill before the Senate Judiciary committee. Meese's apparent involvement in or knowledge of the Reagan camp's acquisition of covert Carter campaign papers in 1980 promised, by itself, to be only a minor fly in the confirmation ointment. But then came the money.
It seems there was a questionable appointment here, a few cufflinks there. Before long, Meese's financial dealings and subsequent patronage had sparked an investigative firestorm in Washington. And last week, both Meese and his critics were calling for a special prosecutor to examine his conduct in office--the latter to savage his confirmation hopes, the former in hopes of clearing his name once and for all.
In a February 8 editorial, "Bring on the Veto," The Crimson called for the Senate to reject Meese's nomination, but noted, "to his credit, Ed Meese's name has not been linked to the sort of sordid activity associated with colleagues like Ann Burford, James Watt, Paul Thayer, Rita Lavelle, Charles Wick or Ray Donovan." But the charges brought against Meese during the recent hearigs clearly qualify him for a choice spot on that list, representing the standard bearers of what former Vice President Walter F. Mondale has aptly termed Reagan's "sleaze factor."
The accusations are as varied as the Administration officials charged with them:
* Anne Burford, the former Environmental Protection Agency chief, was investigated for her preferential treatment of certain toxic waste producers:
* Her former aide, Rita Lavelle, was convicted for perjury;
* Former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Thayer and consultant to the National Security Council, Thomas Reed, quit their posts after allegations that they were involved with insider trading of stocks;
* Former National Security Adviser Richard V. Allen resigned after accepting several wristwatches and $1000 for arranging an interview with Nancy Reagan for a Japanese magazine;
* Former Veterans Administration official Robert Nimme resigned after he spent government money to redecorate his office:
* Federal Aviation Administrator L. Lynn Helms was probed by a grand jury for past business dealings and then resigned;
* CIA Director William Casey was charged with misleading investors about a company he worked with;
The list goes on for more than 40 major and minor officials.
The shape and color of the "sleaze varies, but one thing has been remarkably consistent throughout the Administration's scandals--that is Reagan's steadfast support of his embattled appointees. Loyalty is an admirable trait, but blind loyalty is not--especially in the Chief Executive. Reagan's blanket support for Meese and others is egregious in placing personal loyalties above any regard for the integrity of federal law and the offices these appointees hold.
As such, Reagan's conspicuous refusal to offer even a token public admonition against Administration misconduct is an insult to responsible government. More important, it sheds a revealing light on the values of Reagan himself. Asked about Meese's financial dealings, Reagan offered "I do know that he had to make some pretty great economic sacrifices to come here and work for the government."
The suggestion of the remark by the man who campaigned against Washington is ask not what you can do for government, but what your government can do for you.