White House counsel Fred F. Fielding has been ordered to conduct an "internal review" as to whether presidential aides had improper contacts with Environmental Protection Agency officials, administration officials said yesterday.
The internal review was ordered Feb. 15 by chief of staff James A. Baker III. It was prompted by charges, never detailed, from Hugh B. Kaufman, an EPA employe and agency critic, that the White House was involved in a conspiracy to silence him.
President Reagan's senior advisers and their staffs have been ordered to report to Fielding all their contacts with the agency, based on their files, telephone logs and memos, White House spokesman Larry Speakes said yesterday. The review has not been completed, but so far "we have found nothing that would indicate any wrongdoing," Speakes said.
Six congressional panels and the Justice Department are checking into allegations of political manipulation, conflicts of interest and mismanagement in the EPA's $1.6 billion toxic waste cleanup program, including charges that the program was employed by the White House to help Republican candidates in last year's congressional campaigns.
Previously, the White House had said Fielding was not conducting an investigation or interviewing officials, but was preparing only an "assessment" for the president. Yesterday, Speakes said that Fielding's work also included a review of all White House contacts with the EPA. He said any evidence of improper activity would be turned over to the "proper authorities."
The administration yesterday turned over 64 edited toxic waste enforcement documents to a House subcommittee. The documents were at the heart of Reagan's earlier claim of executive privilege to withhold EPA papers sought by the subcommittee.
Under a compromise agreement, subcommittee members eventually can get access to the edited portions of the documents. Rep. Robert A. Roe (D-N.J.) estimated that 15 to 20 percent of the documents turned over yesterday had been "blacked out."
Fielding was unavailable for comment yesterday. Other officials said that among the White House contacts with EPA that he is reviewing is a series of "issue alerts" that agency officials regularly provided to presidential aides between about March and September of last year.
Several senior White House officials, who asked not to be identified, said the "issue alerts" were detailed summaries of forthcoming EPA actions, largely in the regulatory area.
The papers, with titles such as "Record Keeping Reporting for Pesticide Dealers," were an effort by EPA Administrator Anne M. Burford to keep the White House apprised of actions the agency was about to take that might draw questions or be controversial, the officials said.
One of the "issue alerts" informed White House officials that the EPA was about to settle on a toxic waste cleanup case from the agency's hazardous waste "Superfund," officials said. They did not know which one. But they stressed that the papers were only informational in nature, and dealt with a wide variety of other issues.
"It was a one-way street, a one-way stream of information to us," said Craig Fuller, assistant to the president for Cabinet affairs, the White House official who most often received the documents. Fuller is the point man for Cabinet secretaries and agency directors who are seeking policy decisions from the White House. He serves as a deputy to White House counselor Edwin Meese III.
The EPA papers were also sent for a while to the office of Edward Rollins, the White House political director. He could not be reached for comment yesterday, but other officials said Rollins never read them.
One informed administration official said the "issue alerts" were initiated by Burford in April, 1982, after White House officials complained to her that they were not warned about several controversial regulations the EPA issued early that year. "It came up in a general discussion, wouldn't it be nice if we know what these agencies were going to do?" recalled another White House official.
Several presidential aides said the EPA practice of alerting the White House in special documents was unusual, but that other agencies had, in a less formal way, kept them informed of forthcoming announcements and decisions. For example, Agriculture Secretary John R. Block routinely alerts administration officials when he is about to make an announcement on farm price supports, officials said.
On the question of providing documents to Congress, several House Republicans wrote Reagan to urge a "full and immediate release" of the documents subpoenaed by their Energy and Commerce subcommittee, one of the panels that is investigating the EPA.
The letter was signed by Reps. James T. Broyhill (N.C.), Thomas J. Bliley Jr. (Va.), Bob Whittaker (Kan.), and Michael G. Oxley (Ohio).