The nomination of Theodore C. Sorensen as Central Intelligence Agency director appeared in grave danger yesterday, amid reports that several members of the Senate Intelligence Committee have asked President-elect Jimmy Carter to withdraw Sorensen's name or face the possibility he will not be confirmed.
The Intelligence Committee begins hearings Monday on Sorensen. His problems result from sworn affidavits, which he submitted in the 1971 Pentagon papers case and the 1972 trial of Daniel Ellsberg, that he had taken classified materials from the White House when he left it in 1964 after being a top aide to the late President Kennedy.
Sorensen, who was at the CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., yesterday, issued a statement last night saying Carter "has reaffirmed his strong determination that I serve as director of central intelligence and I expect to do so."
Mark Alcott, a law partner of Sorensen who was acting as his spokesman, said the reaffirmation came during a telephone conversation between Carter and Sorensen yesterday.
Sorensen said in his statement that Carter had read the affidavits which had been on the public record for five years, and "is familiar with all the facts."
He said, "Any charge that I have acted improperly with respect to classified information or White House papers is totally false."
Members of Senate Intelligence Committee, who receives copies of the Sorensen affidavits Friday, said they show that he used some of the materials in his 1965 book, "Kennedys" and received a tax break for donating those and other papers to the government.
The affidavit also state, members said, that he leaked classified materials while in the White House for political and other purposes. The affidavits were called to the committee's attention by Sen. Joe Biden Jr. (D-Del.), a member.
Yesterday, three members of the Intelligence Committee, who asked not to be identified, said they had been told that Committee Chairman Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Senate Minority Leader Howard H. Baker (R-Tenn.), as well as several others, had advised Carter that he should consider withdrawing Sorensen's name, because he lacked judgment and respect for the classification process.
Spokesmen for both Inouye and Baker declined to confirm or deny the report. A spokesman for Baker, an ex officio member of the committee and its former senior Republican, had talked with Carter about Sorensen. Baker told reporters on Jan. 7 that there was "significant opposition" to Sorensen.
Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W. Va.), meanwhile, told reporters yesterday that the Sorensen nomination "is in considerable difficulty" and he "wouldn't be willing to say" at the moment that he will support Sorensen. He said Sorensen's "chances," at this point, are questionable."
A Carter spokesman in Washington said that the President-elect "is going to stand by this nomination fully." In Plains, Ga., Carter's deputy press secretary Rex Granum said Carter "is aware of the problems."
Sen. Jake Garn (R-Utah), a member of the 15-man Intelligence Committee, said he opposes Sorensen, and he believes Sens. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.) and Robert Morgan (D-N.C.) have also decided to oppose Sorensen.
"First of all, I don't think he has any experience at all," Garn said. "Secondly, I am very concerned about someone who would leak classified documents out of the White House."
One Committee Democrat, who asked not to be identified, said that both Sorensen and Carter "are being urged to withdraw the nomination in the most emphatic way - but senators on the committee and by others. They're not all Republicans. It's coming from both sides.
"I think a majority of the committee would vote against him now. It was marginal to begin with. He wasn't qualified. It never made any sense. The job requires a man of authority, a civilian who can control the entire intelligence community - a Jim Schlesinger, not a Sorensen. The director of the largest intelligence service in the world is a leaker! It undermines the whole intelligence effort. It raises questions about his judgment.
"He didn't tell Carter. This was nip and tuck before. Now it's impossible."
Sen. Mark Hatfield (R-Ore.), also on the committee, said, "I have heard that some have urged his withdrawal. A significant number have reservations."
The Pentagon papers case arose in 1971 when the government attempted to prevent The New York Times, Washington Post and other publications from publishing Pentagon documents, which has been obtained from a then unknown source or sources, giving the history of secret government deliberations involving the Vietnamese war.
Later, Ellsberg was accused of leaking the secret documents, which he had obtained while working for the Rand Corp., a government contractor, by duplicating a copy of the papers in Rand's possession.
Ellsberg was tried in 1972 on a 15-count indictment alleging national security violations, but the charges were dismissed after 89 days of trial in 1973 because of the "plumbers" break-in of his psychiatrist's office.
Sorensen filed the affidavits on behalf of Ellsberg and a codefendant in an effort to show that it was not uncommon for high government officials to take documents with them when they left the government and that leaking secret information was done often.
In his affidavits, according to several members of the Intelligence Committee, Sorensen admitted that when he left the White House in 1964, he took with him 67 boxes of the material accumulated during his years as President Kennedy's top White House staff aide, including seven boxes of classified documents, such as copies of Kennedy-Khruchev materials, materials on the Congo, Bay of Pigs, Laos and Berlin crises, and a transcript of the Kennedy-Khruschev meetings in Vienna.
The affidavits also indicates he donated some of the material to the National Archives and received a tax break.
Senate aides said the hearings are scheduled to go on Monday unless Sorensen's name is withdrawn and that Sorensen is preparing a spirited defense before the committee in the hope of saving his nomination.