On March 3, 1983, the Justice Department told Anne M. Burford, then administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, that she was on her own.
"This is bizarre," she said when Justice Department officials told her they were pulling out of her contempt-of-Congress case. " . . . You're saying that an administration official acting under order of the president is not entitled to Justice Department counsel . . . . It's going to look just terrible."
Edward C. Schmults, then deputy attorney general, replied, "We can't represent [the] agency and investigate it, too."
"You turkeys got her into this," Burford's husband, Robert, shot back.
The exchange is chronicled in a handwritten journal kept by John E. Daniel, Burford's chief of staff at the EPA. The journal describes how Burford came to feel abandoned by an administration that had placed her in a bitter legal confrontation with Congress.
Daniel's notes, which seem to reflect Burford's point of view and were recently published by a House subcommittee, cover the period in early 1983 after the House cited Burford for contempt for refusing to turn over EPA documents. Burford acted on President Reagan's order that executive privilege made the documents exempt from disclosure.
Daniel's notes of meetings and phone calls indicate that in the weeks before she resigned on March 9, 1983:
* Burford pleaded with White House chief of staff James A. Baker III to tell Reagan that the controversy over the subpoenaed documents would not go away. "Will you promise me that the president will be told that it will go on and on?" she asked.
* Burford told White House assistant Craig Fuller that "I think we ought to turn these . . . documents over or we're going to bring this president to his knees."
* Burford told Daniel that Justice Department officials "had better assert every credible available defense" on her behalf or she "will bring an ethics action against the lot of them."
* EPA lobbyist Lee Modesitt said congressional leaders thought that Justice officials were "hanging Anne out to dry."
Daniel and Burford declined to comment on the notes. Rep. Elliott H. Levitas (D-Ga.), whose subcommittee first subpoenaed the EPA documents, said he always thought "that Mrs. Burford was simply a pawn in the administration's game."
On Feb. 9, 1983, according to the notes, Daniel complained that he and Burford learned by reading The Washington Post that the Justice Department had proposed a compromise on the documents to Levitas.
On Feb. 15, Schmults and another senior Justice Department official, Carol E. Dinkins, told Burford that they were proposing to give Congress edited versions of the documents. Burford said this didn't go far enough.
Schmults twice refused to let Burford see the department's proposal but then mistakenly left a copy in Burford's offices. EPA officials quickly pored over it.
Two days later, Burford and Daniel met with White House counselor Edwin Meese III, deputy chief of staff Michael K. Deaver and counsel Fred F. Fielding. Burford "stressed that we should give up all the documents now, that the political problems created by the appearance of hiding something were too great," Daniel wrote.
"A few testy words were exchanged, and Meese made clear he didn't want this argued out before the president . . . . "
Nevertheless, Burford and Daniel got to see Reagan that day.
Burford "made [a] pitch to president that . . . his interests were not well served by the appearance that we had something to hide . . . . He appeared to agree with AMG Anne M. Gorsuch, Burford's name before remarrying , but then Fielding stated that the agreement was going to be reached today and that we should await that to see if the documents should be released."
On Feb. 18, Burford told Baker by telephone that Reagan was "not getting the full picture . . . . My judgment is that these bad stories will continue for a year. The only way to stop them is to turn the documents over."
That night, the White House reached an agreement with Levitas on the documents. Burford received a copy while at dinner.
On Feb. 20, the EPA administrator married Robert Burford, an Interior Department official. Copies of the Levitas agreement were circulated at the wedding.
Burford soon became upset that Reagan was bringing in a new management team at the EPA, including Lee M. Thomas, who is in line to become EPA administrator in Reagan's second term. She called White House aide Fuller and said, "This is a mistake. I'm having a real problem with this. These are people I've never met."
Fuller replied that Reagan "can't let another day go by without appointing strong managers over there. We're up against the wall in needing to make this announcement today . . . . We're holding off people who're saying more ought to be done."
"I've tried to put a good face on this whole mess against my better judgment," Burford said. She added that it "may be better to cancel my appearances and let y'all make your announcements."
But Fuller said that he needed Burford to "help in getting one story out" and that the White House would do "anything you want us to say or do."
"You're not doing anything I want you to say or do," she replied.
At another point Burford said, "I love this president, and he's being misadvised." She said they had "given the Democrats an issue they'll ride forever . . . . Politically this is disastrous."
"Personally, my heart goes out to you," Fuller said. " . . . I'll join you in the documents question."
On Feb. 25, Burford met with Reagan, Vice President Bush, Fuller and Sen. Paul Laxalt (R-Nev.). She again urged full disclosure.
When Reagan asked what Attorney General William French Smith thought about it, Burford said she "had never had a chance to speak to him." The president told Fuller to arrange a meeting.
When Burford got to Smith's office that evening, however, the attorney general "was unsympathetic to AMG's position and said that asserting executive privilege had nothing to do with her problems."
Days later, a White House lawyer told Burford that none of the edited documents should be given to Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), who had made a request similar to Levitas'. "I feel very strongly that whatever we give to one congressman we must give to another," Burford replied.
On March 2, in response to news reports of an EPA "hit list" of employes targeted for firing, Daniel told the White House that the agency had found a Chamber of Commerce list of suggested targets that Pendleton James, then White House personnel director, had sent Burford in 1981. The White House, Daniel wrote, was "not acknowledging this."
On the evening of March 3, Schmults told Burford that the Justice Department was withdrawing from her case and could not represent her when she appeared before Congress in response to subpoenas.
"Are you telling me I'm not entitled to DOJ [Department of Justice] representation . . . while fulfilling my role in answering [the] subpoena?" Burford asked.
"Yes," Schmults said.
"That's not what I was told when we got into this," Burford said. She then asked: "Am I under investigation?"
"No, not to my knowledge." Schmults said.
"Then I should get representation . . . . You got me into this saying you could represent me while under criminal contempt, now you say you can't."
"Our role has changed," Schmults said. " . . . I've told you we're not investigating you, but [there's] no guarantee forevermore."
Burford called the situation "despicable." But Schmults warned that "if Reagan capitulates to Congress, they'll just pick off one agency at a time."
Burford soon closed the discussion. "The only way I can avoid another contempt citation is to no longer be administrator," she said.
Six days later, Burford resigned