WASHINGTON (AP) _ As a lawyer in the Reagan White House, John Roberts cautioned against picking a fight with reporters by charging fees for White House press passes.

The idea was raised in 1983 by presidential spokesman Larry Speakes, who complained that ``an increasing number of `fringe' news organizations'' had been seeking White House credentials.

Speakes suggested that imposing a fee would make news organizations ``think twice'' before applying for passes.

Roberts warned it was ``a terrible idea'' in an April 13 memo to White House counsel Fred Fielding. The document came to light Thursday in more than 38,000 pages of material released by the Reagan Library in connection with Roberts' nomination to be a Supreme Court justice.

He indicated the White House could charge a fee, noting that ``nothing in the Constitution requires the taxpayers to fund the exercise of free speech.'' But the fees cannot be used to weed out organizations from the White House press corps, he said.

Apart from the legal issues, Roberts warned, ``The administration, however unfairly, is acquiring the image of being opposed to press freedoms. ... Striking the press corps close to home as Speakes envisions would simply provide a focal point for editorials and reportage on this theme.''

There is still no fee for White House press passes.


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