Washington — The Justice Department has closed a significant chapter in the case against national security adviser Richard Allen. But a question still lingers over the Allen affair: Is Allen too much of a political liability for President Reagan to keep him?
The US Justice Department has concluded that Mr. Allen did not violate federal law in his handling of a $1,000 honorarium from Japanese journalists - although the department is still looking into other aspects of Allen's financial affairs.
The Justice Department said it based its conclusion on a two-month FBI investigation that included 36 interviews in the US and Japan.
While this may absolve Allen of much of the legal liability for his actions, the White House still is weighing the political impact of the Allen affair. Earlier this week, presidential counselor Edwin Meese III said that even if the Justice Department cleared Allen of wrongdoing, the White House still would take into account Allen's judgment in handling the matter.
The President has been described by a top aide as ''being reluctant to fire'' Allen, but set to do so if his troika of top aides says he should.
White House chief of staff James Baker III and his deputy, Michael Deaver, are depicted as counseling Mr. Reagan that Allen has become too much of an embarrassment to him and the administration to remain, whether or not he is guilty of any illegalities.
''[Presidential Counselor Edwin] Meese's position on Allen is pivotal,'' a presidential associate has told the Monitor. He said that Mr. Meese apparently backs Allen now. But if Meese becomes convinced that Allen should go, then it will be 3 to 0 against Allen, he adds, and Reagan will have to tell his national security adviser to go.
Allen has taken an administrative leave and has been intensely airing his side of how he handled the $1,000 fee for an interview with Nancy Reagan.
Allen, at a breakfast with reporters Dec. 1, was asked whether as the result of causingembarrassment to the President he should step down, or be fired. He said ''no,'' that he feels it is important that all the facts be ''analyzed.'' He later added that he ''lamented'' embarrassing the President and that his case is taking a lot of Reagan's time.
Asked if he didn't think a public servant should avoid the appearance of wrongdoing as well as actual wrongdoing, Allen said, ''yes.'' He said on second thought he doesn't think his conduct even amounted to ''bad judgment.'' Instead, he said, the word he should have used about his leaving the $1,000 fee in the safe was ''forgetfulness.''
One high-level administration official says, ''The odds against Allen making it are now about 2 to 1 against him. But Allen is a fighter. He may make it back.''
Reagan's attitude toward Allen is put in this way by the close associate of the President:
''Reagan is a real nice person. He hates to have to fire people, particularly those who have been loyal to him. And Allen has been loyal. With (Budget Director David) Stockman, two of the troika, Deaver and Meese, thought he should go. But Baker backed him. And Reagan went with the one, in great part because of his reluctance to get rid of someone who is as capable and who has worked as hard as Stockman has.
''So Meese's position on Allen is pivotal. He's apparently behind Allen now. But if Meese becomes convinced that Allen should go, that will be 3 to 0 against Dick and I think Reagan will then have to tell him to go.''
Actually, Allen was encouraged to take an administrative leave a while back. But he declined, according to this Reagan associate, because he thought it would look as though he were guilty.
The Justice Department announcement left a clouded picture. The department said it will drop its investigation into the $1,000 payment but will continue looking into two other matters. A department spokesman said it was unclear whether a special prosecutor should be appointed to look into these other matters - Allen's receipt of two watches from the Japanese journalists and a recent report that his financial disclosure form incorrectly stated the date he sold his interest in a consulting firm.