Reagan Open to Burford Legal Expenses : Says U.S. Should Pay Fees of Ex-EPA Chief 'if It Is Appropriate'

Associated Press

President Reagan believes that former Environmental Protection Agency chief Anne Burford should be reimbursed for $211,000 in private legal fees incurred before she resigned "if it is appropriate," the White House said today.

Presidential spokesman Larry Speakes said, "The President's feeling on it is that Mrs. Burford should be compensated if it is appropriate and it should be at a level decided upon that is appropriate."

Speakes said he did not know whether then-presidential counselor Edwin Meese III promised that the fees would be paid, as Burford claimed in a published report.

White House Approached

Speakes said that Burford's lawyers contacted the White House about payment for the fees, and that White House attorneys referred the matter to the Justice Department--now headed by Meese--and the EPA.

Speakes said he did not know when the White House was contacted about the matter.

Burford said in an interview in the current issue of the weekly trade paper Legal Times that Meese had promised when he was counselor to the President that the government would pay the fees.

Speakes said he believed that the matter was one for the Justice Department and the EPA to resolve.

Proper Action Expected

He refused to comment on whether it was appropriate for Meese to decide the issue. Speakes said that Meese would "do the proper thing" but that it was up to the attorney general to decide whether he should handle the matter or not.

In the interview, Burford was quoted as saying, "The agreement (with Meese) was oral and part of my resignation. You'd think he'd honor his word, wouldn't you?"

She added that a suit "will be filed very soon" unless the Administration decides to pay her legal bill.

"If I sue, it's going to be ugly, I can promise you that," the outspoken Burford was quoted as saying. "I don't want to do it, but I have crossed a mental Rubicon and I am not going to pay a bill the government owes. I have already given at the office."

Documents Withheld

Burford's resignation from the EPA on March 9, 1983, followed a probe of alleged improprieties at the agency that led to her refusal to turn over to Congress documents concerning the Superfund waste cleanup program. She has claimed she was under orders from Reagan not to release the documents.

The Justice Department refused to represent Burford in the controversy over the documents, saying its lawyers also were investigating the alleged wrongdoing at the EPA. She hired private attorneys to handle her case.

Burford later was cited for contempt of Congress when she refused to hand over the documents, but ultimately the House dropped the citation.

Meese, who was sworn in as attorney general Feb. 25, is asking the government to reimburse him for $720,000 in legal fees he incurred during an investigation into his financial affairs.

In the Legal Times interview, Burford said that if Meese approved her reimbursement request, it would look as though he were trying to influence the decision on his own fee request.

"It's in his own best interest to do nothing, and I can't afford to have nothing done," she said.

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