WASHINGTON — As a Justice Department lawyer, Samuel Alito quarreled with the head of the government ethics office over proposed requirements on personal financial disclosures, according to documents released Monday.
Alito’s 1987 letter was issued around the time the ethics office said his boss, Attorney General Edwin Meese III, had violated financial disclosure requirements over a $60,000 investment with a businessman who was tied to Wedtech, a Bronx, N.Y., defense contractor that was caught up in a wide-ranging federal investigation.
There was no suggestion that Alito, now nominated to be a Supreme Court justice, was aware of the ethics office’s issues with Meese’s disclosure.
Alito’s letter to David H. Martin, director of the Office of Government Ethics, was among 120 documents from Alito’s service as the deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel from 1985 to 1987 that were released by the Justice Department in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from The Associated Press and other news organizations.
Alito became the U.S. attorney for New Jersey after leaving Justice headquarters and then was appointed to the federal bench. President Bush has nominated him to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.
Some material withheld
Some of the material in the newly released documents was blacked out for privacy reasons. An additional 60 documents were withheld because they contained classified information or confidential exchanges between government lawyers and their clients or for other reasons, said Paul B. Colborn, special counsel in the office where Alito worked.
In his February 1987 letter, Alito, who served as his division’s ethics officer, faulted Martin for failing to consult with the Justice Department before publishing proposed regulations on financial disclosures that upper-level government officials must submit annually.
“In this case, the need for such consultation was acute, since we made it abundantly clear to your office ... that we had serious legal objections,” Alito wrote. The proposal increased the number of federal employees who would have to disclose their finances.
In the same period, the office was reviewing Meese’s own report for 1985, which obscured how W. Franklyn Chinn invested the $60,000 Meese gave him, the ethics office said. Chinn, Meese’s former financial adviser, later was convicted in the Wedtech scandal. Meese never faced criminal charges.
A lawyer who deferred to government actions
The documents generally paint a picture of Alito as a lawyer who gives great deference to governmental actions.
A September 1986 memo to the FBI, for instance, recommends that the bureau ignore a federal court decision restricting Education Department jobs that should require full background investigations for prospective hires. “The district court’s opinion ... is subject to two interpretations, neither of which has a sound legal basis,” Alito wrote of a ruling by U.S. District Judge Louis Oberdorfer.
A January 1986 letter to then-FBI Director William Webster concludes that the bureau may add to its files fingerprints, supplied by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, of Afghan and Iranian refugees without raising privacy concerns.
In another memo, dated January 1987, Alito raised concerns about a ban on capital punishment and other child welfare provisions that were part of a proposed international treaty on children’s’ rights, noting that states, not the federal government, regulate those areas.
“We therefore question whether the United States should agree to this provision,” Alito wrote about the ban on juvenile executions.
In March, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that executing juveniles is unconstitutional.
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