Angered by the Justice Department's continued refusal to turn over documents on a controversial presidential advisory panel, a House committee yesterday subpoenaed Attorney General William French Smith and gave him until Tuesday afternoon to deliver the papers.
Post Office and Civil Service Committee Chairman William D. Ford (D-Mich.) said he took the step "with great reluctance" after the committee's other efforts to get internal memoranda on the President's Private Sector Survey on Cost Control had failed.
"We have good reason to believe that the Department of Justice was fully aware that the White House was playing recklessly with laws designed to protect the public from the fox in the chicken coop and secret proceedings," Ford said in a statement released by his office. "We believe that the memoranda we have sought repeatedly and unsuccessfully will bear this out."
The subpoena seeks eight memos exchanged between assistant attorney general Theodore Olson and White House counsel Fred Fielding between March 17 and Nov. 1 this year, as well as any other documents relating to the status of the advisory committee's employes "or the applicability of the federal conflict-of-interest laws to such employes."
The panel, established by an executive order last June, was set up as a way to get advice from business executives on how best to manage the government. Ford's committee, suspicious that the advisers were getting heavily into policy matters, launched an investigation in September into the panel's activities and members.
Ford says that investigation, and a subsequent probe by the General Accounting Office, indicate that the advisory panel was deliberately structured to circumvent the Federal Advisory Committee Act and to shield more than 1,000 private businessmen who serve on the panel's task forces from the financial disclosure requirements of federal conflict-of-interest laws.
Justice has maintained that the documents the committee seeks are protected under its attorney-client relationship with the White House. Department spokesman Art Brill confirmed that the subpoena had been received, but said Justice had not decided what its response will be.
"We're in consultation with the White House," Brill said. "We're confident we can work it out."