The White House/bunny brouhaha involving Barbara Honegger, the Justice Department aide who resigned in protest of the administration's lack of action on women's issues, has taken some unexpected turns--with charges and denials about Honegger's role as a rabbit.
This is what we know so far:
* Barbara Honegger says she dressed as a rabbit, but not on the day of the White House Easter Egg Roll, as White House Deputy Press Secretary Larry Speakes asserted Wednesday.
* The Easter Egg Roll bunny for the last three years has been Ursula Meese, wife of presidential counselor Edwin Meese; and last year an unidentified secret service agent also dressed as a bunny.
* Honegger dressed as a bunny on two other occasions: Once during the 1980 GOP National Convention after Reagan's acceptance speech at the request of White House Press Secretary James Brady ("He loved the idea of being the Bear with the Rabbit at the celebration party," Honegger said in a statement she issued "for the record" yesterday); and again when she posed for a get-well picture for Brady after he was shot in March 1981. "That act," Honegger said in her statement, "took greater courage than what I have just done."
In that picture, Honegger is shown kneeling in front of a crowd that included Vice President Bush, Meese, White House Chief of Staff James Baker and Deputy Chief of Staff Michael Deaver. In front of her is a sign that reads: "Get the Amewican Spiwit!"
At Honegger's press conference yesterday, she read a prepared statement that said, in part:
"Mrs. Meese, not I, was a 'bunny' at the White House Easter Egg Roll in 1981. This is the only White House Easter Egg Roll I ever attended. The only Easter egg roll I ever attended was in street clothing of appropriate nature.
"There are, yes, two times in connection with the Reagan Administration that I have personally worn a costume which resembled a March Hare. Both were for Jim Brady."
On Sunday, after Honegger spoke out against the Reagan administration's alternative program to the Equal Rights Amendment, one Justice Department official was apparently trying to get the bunny tale out. Justice spokesman Tom DeCair asked a Washington Post reporter if she'd heard the "story about the bunny" and offered to produce a witness. He said he had heard Honegger had dressed up as a bunny at the Republican Convention, but later said he could not find anyone who had witnessed it to confirm the story. DeCair could not be reached for comment yesterday.
But Speakes said of Honegger Wednesday: "The last time I saw her she was the Easter Bunny at the White House Easter Egg Roll . . . I think she was playing an important role as a volunteer . . . to make sure all the children had a good time. It's quite an admirable thing to do. It's not easy to dress up in a hot bunny suit. I've never done it, sort of ashamed to admit it."
Honegger immediately denied the story and told United Press International, "They know so little they have to make up things . . . I can't believe this. Do you think they'd try to do this to a man?"
By yesterday, Speakes, traveling with the president in California, was questioned by reporters about whether he intended to apologize to Honegger. He shook his head negatively. He did concede, however, that Honegger's account of when she wore the bunny suit was correct. "She's right on that," he said.
Honegger garnered national headlines Sunday, when The Washington Post opinion pages published a story by her characterizing the administration's policies on women's issues as a "sham."
She has been giving back-to-back interviews since then, and now has a media consultant to help with her newfound celebrity.