The Conniving Ways Of Dick Thornburgh

THEN-Gov. Dick Thornburgh of Pennsylvania was only 18 months away from being appointed U.S. attorney general when that state's treasurer, R. Budd Dwyer, stood before a packed press conference, placed a gun in his mouth and blew his brains out.

Just before Dwyer committed suicide, he accused Thornburgh of orchestrating a political vendetta against him. He noted that he publicly had refused to approve expense vouchers for Thornburgh's wife for a European trip, and also had questioned Thornburgh's use of state troopers to chauffeur the governor's children to prep school in Massachusetts.

Thornburgh spokesman David Runkel contemptuously dismissed both allegations as those of a ``paranoiac.''

This is the same Runkel who recently flunked a lie-detector test during a Department of Justice investigation of phony leaks to the media about an investigation of Rep. William Gray III, D-Pa.

Somebody in Thornburgh's Justice Department also has been leaking grand-jury information about Washington, D.C., Mayor Marion Barry. The Washington media repeatedly has published grand-jury information before it was officially released by the justice department. Leaking confidential grand-jury information is illegal, and Thornburgh has been curiously silent about these violations of the law.

Those of us who are long-time Thornburgh watchers are feeling an acute sense of deja-vu. As far back as the '70s, political opponents were frequently accusing then-U.S. Attorney Thornburgh of responsibility for grand-jury leaks.

So, it came as no surprise when conservative columnist William Safire recently held Thornburgh accountable for approving ``the sleaziest entrapment yet perpetrated on a suspect.'' Safire also accused Thornburgh of a prosecutorial double standard in using entrapment to nail Barry for alleged cocaine use, but declining to prosecute a former close aide of two decades, William Barr. He was accused in testimony before a Harrisburg, Pa., grand jury of frequent cocaine use. Barr has resigned.

``If the attorney general chooses to be a zealot in the Barry cocaine case,'' wrote Safire, ``he cannot choose to be an ostrich in the cocaine case that may involve his right-hand man.''

Oh, but he can, because that's the way the insidiously manipulative and connivingly amoral Thornburgh operates. Yet, he has managed to arm himself with a Teflon image of Mr. Clean.

In 1975, when Thornburgh was being considered for assistant U.S. attorney general, Alleghany (Va.) Sheriff Eugene Coon testified before a Senate Judiciary committee that Thornburgh was responsible for illegal disclosure of grand-jury information about Coon. That same year, the Alleghany district attorney accused Thornburgh of ``improper conduct'' in apparently condoning a leak of grand-jury information.

So, what seems, at first blush, like a series of isolated incidents actually reflects a pattern. And the Bill Gray affair is the latest recrudescence of Thornburgh's cesspool politics.

But why Bill Gray? Thornburgh may have figured he was doing his party a favor in going after the third-ranking Democrat in the House, especially one from Thornburgh's home state. Ironically, both men are cut from the same venomously ambitious cloth.

One day, Thornburgh will cause President Bush acute embarrassment. Whether playing racial politics with appointments, reviving a Comstockery crusade against obscenity, or presiding over leaked grand-jury information, Dick Thornburgh could well be one of the albatrosses that leads to Bush's defeat in 1992.

Why else do you think Bush's ideological comrade in arms, William Safire, is so upset with Thornburgh?

(Copyright 1990, Newspaper Enterprise Association).