President Donald Trump on Tuesday awarded one of the nation's highest civilian honors to Edwin Meese, best known for serving as President Ronald Reagan's attorney general.
Meese, who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, had a longstanding connection to Reagan that included serving as his chief of staff when Reagan was California's governor. After Reagan became president, Meese served as his chief policy adviser before going on to serve as the nation's 75th attorney general.
"He was a star," Trump said. "Ed was among President Reagan's closest advisers as the administration implemented tax cuts, a dramatic defense buildup and a relentless campaign to defeat communism."
Meese was an early Trump critic who ended up supporting him and helping lead his transition team. Surrounded by family and friends in the Oval Office, the 87-year-old recalled some 30 years of working with Reagan at the state and national level and in his retirement.
"Ronald Reagan was a pivotal part of my life and I am always grateful to him," Meese said.
Meese stayed active in conservative circles following his time in the Reagan administration as an author, speaker and fellow at the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation.
Meese resigned as attorney general in August 1988 after becoming ensnared in a probe of Wedtech Corp., a New York defense contractor. An independent prosecutor began looking at Meese's record of assistance to Wedtech. A 14-month corruption investigation ended in a decision not to prosecute Meese, but a report by the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility said Meese had violated ethical standards.
Trump said Meese delivered "monumental change for the American people" as attorney general and cited the Reagan administration's efforts against drug use, which Trump said proved successful with lower drug use by young adults.
"Would you like to make a comeback?" Trump joked before presenting Meese with the award.