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Attorney General Edwin Meese III says he may appoint an acting deputy while the search continues for someone to fill the No. 2 slot in his embattled Justice Department after two people have rejected the post.

The position is being vacated Friday by Deputy Attorney General Arnold Burns, who resigned in protest March 29 out of concern that the nearly year-long criminal investigation of Meese was hurting department operations.Meese's latest choice, former American Bar Association president John Shepherd, said Wednesday he was concerned with the "personal and financial sacrifices" required of him and his family for the brief appointment.

"My wife and I were not prepared for the pressures to which someone recommended for this position at this time would be subject," Shepherd said.

Meese had hurriedly announced Shepherd would be his choice April 5 in a bid by the attorney general to assert his leadership at the department.

Minutes after the announcement that Shepherd was withdrawing, Meese told a Senate appropriations subcommittee he would appoint an acting deputy. He later told reporters he did not rule out the possibility of appointing his counselor, William Bradford Reynolds.

The Senate three years ago refused to confirm Reynolds as associate attorney general, the No. 3 post in the department, because of Reynold's handling of civil rights.

Meese later refined his remarks, with department spokesman Terry Eastland saying no decision has been made on whether to appoint an acting deputy and no thought given to who might fill the job in the interim if it were deemed necessary.

The deputy attorney general manages day-to-day operations at the department and handles matters from which the attorney general has removed himself in order to avoid potential conflicts of interest.

The No. 3 Justice Department post also is vacant, with the departure of Associate Attorney General Stephen Trott to become a federal judge.