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Justice's Shaheen is a bulldog of a watchdog

Unless lightning strikes, there will soon be a new point man in the probe into the affairs of Attorney General Edwin Meese III. His name is Michael Shaheen Jr. and he is head of the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility. Soon independent counsel James McKay is expected to end his investigation of Mr. Meese without issuing an indictment. Mr. McKay will hand over his evidence to Mr. Shaheen, who will likely use that and other, independent evidence to launch an ethics investigation.

In Shaheen, who declined to be interviewed, Meese will have a meticulous investigator, those who know him say.

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``Shaheen is highly respected because he's tough, fair. Everything gets run down thoroughly; there are are no short cuts,'' says one Justice official. ``He will not be scared off of anything.''

G. Robert Blakey, who got to know Shaheen when Mr. Blakey worked on the Senate Judiciary Committee, agrees.

He recalls the probe into whether FBI agents made false statements to Justice Department attorneys about using Teamsters president Jackie Presser as an informant.

``Shaheen got into it and, ultimately, an FBI agent got indicted, and Presser, who had not been indicted, got indicted,'' Blakey says. ``That was largely a result of Shaheen's work,'' he says.

Shaheen has also taken on some powerful figures, including Meese's predecessor as attorney general, William French Smith. A probe by Shaheen's office persuaded Mr. Smith to repay the government for use of an official car by his wife. Shaheen also flagged conflict-of-interest violations involving a Smith tax shelter. Smith agreed to forgo the tax benefits.

Only the President or Meese himself can decide whether the attorney general should step down. But a tough report from the independent counsel, and an adverse recommendation from the Office of Professional Responsibility, would not play well with the President's conservative supporters, who are already restive over Meese's tenure.

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