I must confess to relief at the burden lifted from me by the Appeals Court decision not to reimburse Edwin Meese's lawyers for time they spent dealing with the press during the Independent Counsel's investigation last year.
To my dismay, I learned that I was an item on that bill, and thus potentially a contributor to the federal deficit.
Lawyer Leonard Garment, a friend of mine dating back to his days in the Nixon White House, had originally asked for $720,000. For his time he charged $250 an hour. He reported that 10 to 15 percent of his time had been devoted to contacts with the media.
For example, when Sen. Howard Metzenbaum bad-mouthed the attorney-general- designate, Garment drafted a letter of protest. When the Baltimore Evening Sun wrote a critical editorial, Garment demanded a retraction and enclosed a "proposed editorial" to accomplish that purpose.
The Sun's editorial page editor, Ray Jenkins, tossed Garment's manuscript into the wastebasket. When it came out that the lawyer was charging for time spent as a volunteer editorial writer, Jenkins wrote a scorching editorial denouncing such use of the taxpayers' money.
Jenkins, who had served as deputy press secretary in the Carter White House, was a witness to the investigation of Hamilton Jordan on drug allegations that turned out to be baseless. Jordan was not reimbursed for legal expenses. Indeed, it was because of this that Congress had amended the law to provide for reimbursement, an amendment of which Meese was the first beneficiary.
Garment billed not only for creating unpublished editorials but also for talking to journalists. That is where I came in. I had at least four conversations with Meese's counsel between September and March 1984, including telephone calls and chats on social occasions.
A typical contact went like this: I would ask, "Len, when can I get an interview with your client?" Garment would reply, "I'll put you near the top of the list, but it won't be until after the investigation." I would then try to negotiate a little. Had I known that the meter was running at over $4 a minute, I might have been less persistent.
I never did find out exactly how much Garment charged for me. After his bill had been submitted, he allowed me one free call to inquire about the charges. He said that there was no separate column for me, but that I had been grouped with others in a miscellaneous category of "contacts."
Now that the Appeals Court has disallowed the "media contact" charges in the course of cutting the fee to a bare-bones $472,000, I feel a lot better. Garment says, "The court's decision is thouhtful and fair." Maybe he feels better, too, about being a well-paid lawyer and a pro bono press agent.