Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, asked the Justice Department yesterday for notes that suggest that senior department officials in early 1983 discussed starting a criminal investigation of Environmental Protection Agency official Rita M. Lavelle to block a probe of the EPA by Dingell's oversight and investigations subcommittee.
The notes are one subject of a broad, 18-month investigation by the House Judiciary Committee into the administration's use of executive privilege in attempting to withhold documents from Dingell's subcommittee.
Dingell, who is continuing his investigation of EPA, requested copies of the notes in a letter Sept. 11 to Attorney General William French Smith. Stephen S. Trott, who heads the Criminal Division, replied that the Lavelle case was "still actively in litigation." Dingell wrote again to Smith Sept. 17, saying he found Trott's response "unacceptable."
In his statement yesterday, Dingell said he had received no reply, adding: "Any further delays raise serious questions about the department's motives."
The Justice Department meetings started Jan. 27, 1983 and continued through Feb. 9. In the following month, more than a dozen high-level EPA officials, including Administrator Anne M. Burford, resigned and President Reagan gave up his claim of executive privilege over the documents.
More than half a dozen lawyers who are familiar with the Justice Department notes say they clearly indicated discussion of starting a grand jury investigation of Lavelle to keep the documents away from Dingell's subcommittee.
Key Justice Department officials involved in the meetings all have denied that this occurred.
Sources say the final decision to prosecute Lavelle, who was convicted last December of perjury and obstruction, was made by attorneys in the Criminal Division who were not at the meetings and were not aware of the earlier discussions.