The House Judiciary Committee, meeting in unusual secrecy, decided yesterday to allow current and former Reagan administration officials to review a confidential report that accuses them of wrongdoing during a 1982 confrontation over Environmental Protection Agency documents.
During a heated two-hour debate from which most members of the committee's staff were excluded, the panel decided to share the results of its 2 1/2-year investigation with more than a dozen persons named in the 1,200-page report. The report examines whether administration officials acted in good faith in invoking executive privilege to justify withholding from Congress documents on the EPA's Superfund cleanup program.
Committee Chairman Peter W. Rodino Jr. (D-N.J.) said the panel had produced "a very, very fair and accurate report" but decided to seek comments out of fairness to those named in the report. He said they would be allowed to see the report "under controlled circumstances, with staff people present," and would not be given copies.
Several committee members refused to discuss the proceedings, underscoring the sensitivity of allegations that some lawmakers think require an independent counsel's investigation.
One member, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), said the panel had been "wrestling with the question of trying to protect reputations. I thought it was reasonable to give people a chance to take a look at it and make their rebuttals before it becomes public."
A confidential summary of the report made available to reporters by sources last week says that deputy White House counsel Richard A. Hauser "falsely certified" that he had reviewed all the documents withheld from Congress under executive privilege. The summary also says that then-Assistant Attorney General Theodore B. Olson "gave false and misleading testimony" at a 1983 congressional hearing. Both have denied any wrongdoing.
The summary said that senior Justice Department officials gathered information about campaign contributions to members of Congress in an attempt to raise questions about the lawmakers' motives in investigating EPA. It said some officials discussed opening a criminal investigation against former EPA official Rita M. Lavelle, who later was convicted of perjury, to justify denying documents to Congress.
The summary also accused the administration of trying to block the current Judiciary Committee investigation and withholding a large volume of handwritten notes from the panel for more than a year.
The EPA probe, which examined whether cleanups of toxic-waste dumps were delayed for political reasons, led to the 1983 resignations of agency Administrator Anne M. Burford and 21 other EPA officials.