Remarks Announcing the Nomination of Richard L. Thornburgh To Be Attorney General of the United States

 

July 12, 1988

 

The President. It's with great pleasure that I announce my intention to nominate former Governor Richard L. Thornburgh to serve as Attorney General.

 

Governor Thornburgh's extensive law enforcement experience and proven integrity, along with his familiarity with the Department of Justice, clearly meet my criteria for filling this important post. Dick Thornburgh was a prosecutor's prosecutor for 6 years as the United States Attorney for Western Pennsylvania, a tough-minded crime buster winning an unprecedented number of convictions for corruption and against members of organized crime. While at the Department of Justice, he founded the public integrity section, which investigates and prosecutes corrupt Federal, State, and local officials. He served 2 years as the head of the criminal division and briefly as Acting Deputy Attorney General.

 

Dick proved himself an able manager while serving as Governor of Pennsylvania, our fourth largest State. And there he reinstituted the death penalty and won tough, mandatory jail terms for violent and repeat criminals. He was in the forefront of the war against drugs, cracking down on drug traffickers and creating preventive education programs for Pennsylvania's school children. At the end of his term, the State's serious crime rate had dropped 17 percent.

 

I could always count on Governor Thornburgh's help, whether in the fight against big spending and high taxes or for balancing the budget and the line-item veto. I could count on him then, and I'm turning to him now, an intelligent and knowledgeable man, an experienced prosecutor, alumnus of the Justice Department, and former Governor. He said once that ``The first civil right of all Americans is the right to be free from fear in our homes, on our streets, and in our communities.'' Nothing could be more true, and that cause could have no greater champion than Dick Thornburgh.

 

He is the ideal choice for Attorney General, and I urge the Senate to move quickly to confirm him as well as our other Justice Department nominees so that they can roll up their sleeves and get back to work -- or get to work enforcing the laws of the land.

 

Attorney General Meese

 

Q. Why is the Attorney General stepping down when no criminality was proved against him and no charges placed?

 

The President. I think that's a question he'd better answer for you, and I think he would.

 

Q. Well, why do you think he did?

 

The President. Well, I think it was personal reasons -- after all that he'd been through, and with his family in mind.

 

Q. Mr. President, there are some conservatives who are going to say you're bringing the Harvard Yard Boutique into your own administration. [Laughter] What are you going to say to conservatives?

 

The President. I think I would just answer them that the more Governors I can get into the Federal Government the better off the Nation will be.

 

Q. Mr. President, what are you going to do about Nicaragua kicking out eight of our diplomats, sir?

 

The President. I can't -- look, Mr. Thornburgh is here, and he has a statement.

 

Q. Are you going to sit by and let Nicaragua do that?

 

Governor Thornburgh. Thank you, Mr. President. I want to extend my appreciation to you for extending to me the great honor and privilege of your appointment as Attorney General of the United States. It's a challenge that I accept. I look forward to returning to the Department of Justice, where I served a very fulfilling and fruitful 8 years of my career as a United States attorney and as Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Criminal Division.

 

I look forward as well to helping to implement the priorities of the Reagan-Bush administration, especially in the field of law enforcement and administration of criminal justice. I'm confident that the experience I had as Governor for 8 years of one of our major States will serve me and you and the people of this country well in accepting this challenge, and I appreciate it very much.

 

Q. Do you think you can restore the integrity and morale --  --

 

Q. Governor, what did you consider your major challenge?

 

Nicaragua

 

Q. Mr. President, could you just tell us what you're planning to do about Nicaragua? They have kicked out our diplomats, accused us of state terrorism. What can the United States do?

 

The President. That is under discussion right now.

 

Q. Do you want more lethal aid?

 

The President. Wait a minute! I have to move on to another engagement, but Governor Thornburgh has kindly agreed that he -- you have some questions for him.

 

Q. Governor Thornburgh --  --

 

Q. Aren't we going to send some response to Nicaragua?

 

Q.  -- and the integrity of the Justice Department?

 

Q. Are we going to do something about their diplomats?

 

Attorney General's Role

 

Q. Governor, what do you consider your major challenge in the last 6 months of the Reagan administration as Attorney General?

 

Governor Thornburgh. I think the major challenge of the Attorney General at any period of time is to provide the leadership to the law enforcement community nationwide that is necessary to keep up a relentless war on problems such as organized crime, drug trafficking, official corruption -- the major priorities that the Federal law enforcement establishment is involved in.

 

Q. In terms of the cloud, the investigation over the past months of Attorney General Meese, is your challenge also stabilizing the Justice Department?

 

Governor Thornburgh. Oh, I think it's important to look forward rather than back, and that will certainly be my viewpoint if I'm confirmed. And I think what we will try to do is to carry out a full-bore effort in the law enforcement area.

 

Q. In looking forward, just exactly how much do you expect to accomplish in advancing the priorities over the next 6 months? Or do you expect to remain in the post if the Vice President wins in November?

 

Governor Thornburgh. Well, I obviously can't speak for the Vice President. But I think that law enforcement is a 24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week proposition. And whether you're on the job for 6 days or 6 months or 6 years, it is a full-time effort and an important effort to give the people of the United States confidence that their interests are being looked after and that their rights are being observed. And that's something that I'm prepared to --  --

 

Attorney General Meese

 

Q. Governor, what do you think of the Attorney General?

 

Q. Governor, do you feel that you will have to look into the Meese affair because there are still unanswered questions about his ethical conduct -- about whether or not there was something involved with the Israeli pipeline? There were differing recollections in his deposition.

 

Governor Thornburgh. I really can't answer any substantive questions at this point for two reasons: One, obviously I have not been privy to the workings of the Department of Justice or the Independent Counsel's office up to today, and secondly, I think my prime responsibility is to the Judiciary Committee and the Senate to answer and disclose my views on substance --  --

 

Q. But without dealing with the substance, is it your intention to look into those allegations and to look at the McKay report and to follow up if necessary?

 

Governor Thornburgh. Well, my intention, and this is in any area, is to follow the evidence wherever it may lead. And not knowing what that evidence is, I can't give you a prediction.

 

Q. Governor Thornburgh, what's your understanding --  --

 

Mr. Fitzwater. Let's take the final question here. Helen [Helen Thomas, United Press International], go ahead.

 

Q. Well, what do you think of the Attorney General? What do you think of the Attorney General? I mean, what do you think of his performance?

 

Governor Thornburgh. Well, I'm not in any position to evaluate that.

 

Q. You haven't even mentioned him, which is peculiar.

 

Governor Thornburgh. No, as I said, I think it's important to look forward rather than look back. I will --  --

 

Q. You have no opinion about him?

 

Governor Thornburgh. I'm not going to express any opinion today on the basis of the information I have. I think in due course I'll have the obligation. And the Senate, through its Judiciary Committee, will have the responsibility to question me at length, as they should, on my views on any substantive matters that affect them.

 

Mr. Fitzwater. Thank you very much.

 

Attorney General's Role

 

Q. But wait a minute. The Attorney General played an important role in this administration in suggesting that this President veto a number of civil rights bills. There is an important housing -- the fair housing bill that's going to come to the President's desk. Do you expect to play a role similar to Mr. Meese's as a counselor to the President on recommending issues? And do you think your views will differ with Mr. Meese at all?

 

Governor Thornburgh. Well, again, I'm sure you'll understand that I'm not in a position -- nor would it be appropriate at this time -- to comment on substantive issues. The office of the Attorney General encompasses important tasks of advising the President on legal issues, of being the chief law enforcement officer, and of being the advocate for the people of the United States as those interests are defined. And within that area, I intend to be as active as I can.

 

Q. Well, will you head the Domestic Policy Council?

 

Q. Do you want to stay on if --  --

 

Governor Thornburgh. That's a question you'll have to ask the President.

 

Q. Do you want to be a Governor and --  --

 

Q. Governor, do you want --  --

 

Q. Would you like to stay more than 6 months?

 

Q. Excuse me, Governor, do you want to be an Attorney General in the tradition of Ed Meese, your predecessor?

 

Governor Thornburgh. I'll be an Attorney General in the tradition of Dick Thornburgh.

 

Q. Do you want to stay on if Bush wins?

 

Governor Thornburgh. That's something that's entirely premature.

 

Q. Have you talked to Bush? Have you talked to Bush?

 

Q. Are you going to campaign for him?

 

Governor Thornburgh. Well, to the extent that that's proper for the Attorney General, but, again, there is some constraint on it. Thank you.

 

Note: The President spoke at 10:34 a.m. in the Briefing Room at the White House. Marlin Fitzwater was Assistant to the President for Press Relations.