Time magazine White House correspondent Larry Barrett had a book party at the Sheraton-Carlton Hotel last night, and the main thing people talked about was the mole.
"Which mole is that, sweetheart?" Barrett said, loving it.
The one who has caused a flurry of publicity for his book about Ronald Reagan's first two years in the White House, "Gambling With History." Barrett writes that someone carried one of Jimmy Carter's briefing books to Ronald Reagan's campaign staff just before the 1980 debate, and now a House subcommittee has asked the White House to explain in writing how they got it. Today is the deadline.
Last night, as guests ate shrimp and scallops wrapped in bacon, White House advisers dismissed this as nothing more than a . . . molehill.
"Hype," said Michael Deaver, the deputy chief of staff. "I have no idea who it was. I don't think anybody else does, either. My God, it was 2 1/2 years ago in the height of a campaign."
"I didn't think then--and I don't think now--that it was that significant," said David Stockman, the Office of Management and Budget director who played the role of Carter in the practice debates with Reagan. "You could have gotten it from campaign brochures. It wasn't anything sensitive."
"I have absolutely no knowledge of the facts," said Richard Darman, a presidential assistant.
"There is no evidence that the Reagan campaign engaged in anything illegal or unethical," said David Gergen, the communications director.
At this point, photographer David Hume Kennerly sauntered up with Time photographer Dirck Halstead. "We were watching ABC News last night," Kennerly told Gergen, "and there's the story about the stolen memos. There's a picture of White House chief of staff James Baker, CIA Director William Casey, Stockman, and you--and Halstead stands up and points to you and says--'IT'S HIM!' "
Gergen managed a hearty chuckle.
"You've been through this before," Kennerly said, meaning Gergen's time at the White House during Watergate.
"Unscathed," said Gergen.
Meanwhile, the party: About 125 guests, most of them White House advisers and the people who write about them, collected on the terrace of the hotel. It was a remarkably cool June night; people could actually leave on their jackets without sweating to death. Everyone drifted pleasantly between two bars as the sky on the second-longest day of the year slowly grew dark. It wasn't a mob scene.
Former national security adviser Richard Allen came with his wife, Pat. In 1981, before resigning after he acknowledged accepting a gratuity and at least two watches from the Japanese, reporters had staked out his house. "This will be fun tonight," Pat Allen told her husband as they walked in. "We'll be able to see all those people who were camped out on our front lawn."
"The last time I saw Dick Allen," one of the reporters there said, "he shook my hand--and his hand had a watch in it."
In his book, Barrett says that Deaver and then-deputy secretary of state William Clark met secretly in New Jersey to plan Allen's ouster--and Clark's succession as national security adviser.
So what did Allen think of that?
"Gee, I didn't see that part," he said. "What page is it on? If you find out the source, will you have him give me a call?"
Among the other guests were Sens. Paul Laxalt (R-Nev.) and Paul Tsongas (D-Mass.), White House aides Ken Duberstein and Craig Fuller, and Sheila Tate, Nancy Reagan's press secretary. The bartender had two questions about the people who were milling about: Who was that woman in the white suit? (Deaver's wife, Carolyn) And who was that woman in the purple blouse? (CBS White House correspondent Lesley Stahl).
Sticking out from all the Washington types was Julian Bach, Barrett's literary agent from New York. He'd never met David Stockman until last night.
"I liked him," he said. "Of course, it was a 10-minute conversation over cocktails, and most people are very nice for 10 minutes. It's that eleventh minute."
What did he make of all the Washington crowd?
"By and large, people in the publishing world look interesting," he said. "They're not the prettiest or the ugliest, but they're always vaguely intelligent-looking. And these people here are vaguely intelligent-looking."
There isn't any difference at all?
"These people are taller," said Bach. "No, really."