WASHINGTON — Independent counsel Alexia Morrison announced Friday that she will not bring criminal charges against former U.S. Assistant Atty. Gen. Theodore B. Olson, who had been accused of misleading a congressional panel investigating the Superfund toxic waste cleanup program.
Morrison, who defeated a challenge to the independent counsel law before the Supreme Court earlier this year, will not seek to indict Olson for his activities "in connection with a congressional inquiry into the Justice Department's role in withholding Environmental Protection Agency documents from Congress," according to a statement issued by her office.
In March, 1983, Olson testified before a House Judiciary subcommittee about the EPA scandal, which involved allegations of possible political manipulation of the Superfund program. Two years later, committee Democrats issued a report accusing Olson of having misled the panel on matters related to the case.
To Issue Report
Morrison said she would shortly issue a report explaining the reasons for not seeking an indictment of Olson. As of June, she had spent $1.26 million on the investigation, according to a Justice Department report.
"I have an overwhelming sense of relief. This has been a very, very long ordeal," said Olson, now the managing partner of the Washington office of the Los Angeles-based law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. He said he would comment on the specific actions by the independent counsel after she files her final report.
Earlier, Olson--exasperated by the long and costly probe that had hung over him since 1983--had challenged the constitutionality of the independent counsel law and had won an appeals court ruling in January striking it down. But on June 29, the Supreme Court ruled 7 to 1 that the law was constitutional and that the investigation could proceed.
Olson said he ran up about $1.5 million in legal fees in defending himself during the investigation. Since he was not indicted, he can submit those bills to a federal court in Washington and ask that the government pay the cost.
Ammunition to Both Sides
As with the investigation by independent counsel James C. McKay of former Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III, the end of the Olson probe gives ammunition both to the critics and supporters of the 1978 Ethics in Government Act, the law under which such outside counsels are appointed.
Olson's attorneys and Justice Department officials had complained earlier that Morrison's probe had dragged on far longer than necessary. "We have had federal prosecutors take a look at this case and decide within 15 minutes that it should be dropped," one attorney familiar with the case said Friday.
Justice Antonin Scalia, the only member of the Supreme Court to side with Olson, said the investigation was essentially a political clash between the Democratic Congress and a Republican Administration and that a prosecutor should not be given a free hand and endless resources to pursue such a matter.
But supporters of the law said the Meese and Olson investigations prove that the system works, contending that the Justice Department could not be trusted to fully investigate the attorney general or a top assistant. Only a full and fair investigation by an independent counsel can assure the public that accusations of criminal conduct were unfounded, they said.