The following item, published Wednesday on Page A15, three-fourths of the way down the page in The Washington Post's "Around the Nation" column, under the heading "Addenda," is herewith reprinted in its entirety:
Frank Wills, the security guard who discovered the Watergate break-in almost 11 years ago, was given a one-year prison term in Augusta, Ga., for shoplifting $17 tennis shoes.
This is not going to be another exercise in wallowing in Watergate, although that briefest of news items prompts thoughts about how justice sometimes works for the most, and the least, powerful of our citizens. It leads one to wonder if Richard M. Nixon ever settled that $148,000 sum in back taxes?
In his last year in office, the Internal Revenue Service found Nixon obligated to pay about $280,000 in taxes owed for 1970, 1971 and 1972. The agency also said he should have paid $148,000 for 1969, although the statute of limitations had run out for that year and he thus was no longer legally liable. Nonetheless, he promised to pay the full amount of $432,787.13, which included penalties, for all those years.
On April 17, 1974, fewer than four months before his forced resignation, he paid the $280,000 by check. But as far as this reporter can determine, after checks with congressional sources familiar with the case and with the IRS, there is no public record to show he repaid the promised $148,000 for 1969.
All of which adds a certain perspective to Frank Wills' problems, and one more footnote to Watergate. But there's another reason why the surfacing of Wills' name now seems ironic for, like it or not, the shades of Watergate are being evoked again in Washington.
It was inevitable, the nature of news being what it is and the collective memories of Washington being what they are, that discovery of two paper shredders in the Environmental Protection Agency offices that are the source of intense controversy between White House and Congress would cause the present situation to be called, by some, "Shreddergate."
They turned up only after EPA's boss, Anne M. Gorsuch, had become the first Cabinet officer cited for contempt of Congress for withholding "sensitive" documents from those offices under that familiar doctrine of "executive privilege." And they were installed, and operated, at a time when other familiar-sounding charges were being leveled--of cover-ups, obstruction of justice and stonewalling by the Reagan administration on turning over subpoenaed documents, logs and even, it appears, tapes.
It is a pleasure to report that, appearances notwithstanding, all of this can be explained easily. Through the courtesy of the House Public Works and Transportation Committee, whose investigations subcommittee issued the subpoena that led to the historic contempt of Congress vote against Gorsuch in December, three internal EPA documents clarify everything.
They were drafted in a 24-hour period when existence of the shredders became public knowledge little more than a week ago. Reading them, you'll see how innocent the whole affair really is. You'll also have a clearer picture of the sort of mentality guiding EPA these days. And you'll be reassured to see the crisp manner in which Gorsuch's agency performs under pressure.
The documents are reprinted here, in abbreviated form, but exactly as written, as a public service in an attempt to lay this unfortunate matter to rest.
First came a memo from William N. Hedeman Jr., director of EPA's Office of Emergency and Remedial Response (OERR), to Michael A. Brown, acting assistant administrator:Feb. 10: MEMORANDUM Subject: Paper Shredder Use Within OERR
. . . The unit was intially located in Room S385C and later just outside that office in an unlocked secretarial bay. The unit was not kept in a locked area. During normal office hours, users of the unit could be observed by management and administrative staff, which tended to control its use. No controls were instituted for off-duty hours, and no records were kept on its use.
The primary custodian of the shredder was a senior agency employe who is very familiar with proper custody of confidential documents and informally monitored use to reduce the likelihood that indiscriminate or improper use could occur.
Although records do not exist that describe the specific documents shredded, the use was essentially limited to obsolete forms and data sheets used in developing the National Priority List (NPL) and obsolete proprietary contract proposals . . . .
Next, amid the flurry in the press about disclosure of EPA shredders, came the following document, from a "Bob W. :"2/10 6:40 p.m. Shredder Update
The EPA's Inspector General's Office originally requested the shredders. They wanted two . . . . Four machines were delivered. The IG's Office told Procurement about their mistake and sought assistance in finding another agency office with a need who could take and pay for the extra machines. When OERR was approached by Procurement, OERR recognized the usefulness of the machines for destroying losing bids on their multimillion-dollar support contract. OERR's admin. officer thought OWPE might also have a need, and persuaded OWPE of this need.
I believe my discussion with J. Yamada will result in the appropriate investigation in OLEC to confirm the continued presence of the "witheld" sic documents. Without a log or any security on the machines, I doubt we can establish that no documents requested but not yet evaluated for sensitivity were destroyed by shredder. (of course we probably can't prove any were destroyed by any other means).
On the other hand, we have no evidence or knowledge that anyone was ever instructed to do this and we can establish that the machines weren't sought out by OWPE and OERR. We could interview staff about whether they overheard or observed anyone destroying documents which should have been retained, but with free access to the machines I'm not sure that proves much since the volume of documents covered in the various requests would make that kind of observation pretty difficult . . . .
Finally, from Gene A. Lucero, director of EPA's Office of Waste Progams Enforcement (OWPE):Feb. 11: SUBJECT: Paper Shredder
. . . When the paper shredder was offered to us, we decided to accept it since it would be the most secure way of discarding unnecessary documents. In addition, it would be a more secure way of discarding duplicate copies of enforcement confidential or enforcement sensitive materials in the future. Past experience has shown that the agency's trash removal process did not guarantee that documents would not be spilled in hallways or found blowing around the parking lot near the dumpster . . . .
There you have it, the mystery finally resolved.
Obviously, they needed those shredders. Had they not obtained them, the whole confidential file would have been blown for sure by those sinister forces operating in EPA's parking lot around the dumpster.
Whew! When you think of what might have been, it gives you chills.
So you can rest easier and put Shreddergate behind you. And, oh yes, while we're on the subject, Mr. President, how about a full pardon for Frank Wills? There are precedents, you know.