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EPA Case May Go to Special Counsel : Ethics Act Reportedly to Be Invoked in Misconduct Probe

Times Staff Writer

Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III has decided to seek appointment of an independent counsel to investigate allegations that Administration officials deliberately withheld information from two House panels investigating the Environmental Protection Agency, sources said Friday.

The sources, who asked not to be identified, said that Meese’s decision was based on a preliminary investigation of the charges by FBI agents and Justice Department attorneys under direction of U.S. Atty. William Weld of Boston.

Judiciary Panel Action

The House Judiciary Committee, splitting largely along party lines, recommended that Meese move to name an outside prosecutor because former Justice Department officials and a White House lawyer were accused in a voluminous committee report of misleading Congress in the EPA investigation.

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Weld was specially assigned to the matter after high-ranking department officials, including Deputy Atty. Gen. D. Lowell Jensen and Assistant Atty. Gen. Stephen S. Trott, who were colleagues of several of those criticized in the report, removed themselves from the case.

The sources said they did not know whether Meese already had submitted a formal application to the special federal court here that appoints such independent counsels. The timing of such an appointment is up to the court.

Barred From Commenting

Justice Department spokesmen Terry Eastland and Patrick S. Korten said they are barred by the Ethics in Government Act from confirming or denying Meese’s decision and from any other comment on the matter.

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But a source familiar with the issue said that Meese’s recommendation was not nearly as sweeping as the accusations lodged by the House committee, which criticized actions by Deputy White House Counsel Richard A. Hauser and several former Justice Department officials, including former Deputy Atty. Gen. Edward C. Schmults and former Assistant Attys. Gen. Carol Dinkins, Paul McGrath and Theodore B. Olson.

Meese met earlier this week with attorneys for some of the officials, who argued against taking any action against their clients, one source said. This source emphasized that Meese’s recommendation should not be interpreted as a conclusion that there was wrongdoing in the case.

The limited preliminary inquiry was not able to resolve some of the questions raised by the allegations, necessitating the full-scale investigation, the source said.

Possible Misconduct

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The House Judiciary Committee last December found possible misconduct by the officials in the way they dealt with EPA files subpoenaed first by a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee and later by the Judiciary Committee.

The House report charged that Justice Department officials, in urging President Reagan to withhold files from the EPA’s Superfund toxic waste cleanup program on the grounds of executive privilege, had not reviewed the documents as they had claimed they did to ensure that the data contained no evidence of agency misconduct.


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