Robert Bloom, the acting comptroller of the currency when Bert Lance was confirmed as budget director by the Senate, yesterday held Jimmy Carter or his associates responsible for withholding details of Lance's past difficulties from a Senate committee.
Bloom said he believes that, at the time of Lance's confirmation, Carter must have known the details of Lance's past troubles, including hitherto-unpublished findings by federal bank examiners that the Calhoun First National Bank was extremely sloppily run when Lance was its chief executive officer.
Lance himself knew all these facts, and Bloom said, he understood that Lance's Atlanta attorney knew the details, too. Because of his telephone conversations with these people, Bloom said, "I believed at all times" that the President-elect and his aides "were aware of the most serious problems known to me at that time in connection with Mr. Lance's banking background."
"It was my assumption that the President-elect and his aides "were aware of the most serious problems known to me at that time in connection with Mr. Lance's banking background."
"It was my assumption that the President-elect, someone on his staff or the transition attorneys had made available to the "[Senate] committee" the information on Lance's earlier difficulties, Bloom said.
Bloom had been accused of having glossed over Lance's past problems in a letter he wrote to the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee during the confirmation. In his testimony yesterday he sought to shift that blame.
Other testimony before the House subcommittee on financial institutions produced these new revelations in the Lance affair:
Donald Tarleton, the regional official who decided to drop an embarrasing agreement between Lance's Calhoun First National Bank and the comptroller's office, met with Lance last Nov. 22, the very day on which the agreement was rescinded. Tarleton denied Lance asked him to take the action he did.
That agreement was potentially much more embarrassing to Lance than was previously realized. Not only did it order the Calhoun bank to allow no more overdrafts to Lance and his relatives but it also ordered the bank to justify the salary it paid to Lance, which apparently struck federal bank examiners as too high, and it was sharply critical of Calhoun's lending policies when Lance ran the bank. It ordered the bank to raise $625,000 in working capital at once and take sweeping reform measures internally, including hiring an "experienced" new lending officer to clean up the situation left by Lance and the bank's chairman, Y. Atkins Henderson Jr.
Lance, according to Bloom, specifically requested that Bloom with hold the comptroller's agreement with the Calhoun bank from an agent of the FBI who was conducting a background check on Lance in connection with his new federal job.
Lance feared, Bloom said, that the report would damage the Calhoun bank if it were made public during his confirmation hearings. Therefore, he asked Bloom to keep it confidential. Bloom agreed to do so.
Potentially the most explosive aspect of yesterday's new revelations was the suggestion that Carter or his close associates hid the true extent and nature of Lance's earlier problems with federal bank examiners.
The House subcommittee provided additional evidence of possible attempted cover-up yesterday, though it was not clear whose work this was.
The evidence was a proposed press release drafted in the early days of last December after a reported telephoned the comptroller's office to ask for information about federal bank examiners' past dealings with Lance and the banks he ran.
This call, Bloom testified, prompted him, as acting comptroller, to telephone Lance to ask what information should be made public. Under the law the comptroller's information about national banks can only be released with bank's permission.
This led to discussions between Bloom and an Atlanta attorney, Sidney Smith, representing Lance. In a sworn deposition released yesterday, Bloom said he proposed a draft press release to Smith which would have mentioned each of Lance's principal run-ins with the bank examiners, and the disposition of each.
But the draft press release made public yesterday ignored two key elements of Lance's past troubles: the fact that he and Mrs. Lance had overdrawn their private accounts in Calhoun, and the fact that the comptroller had referred and investigation of two Lance-for-governor bank accounts to the Justice Department for possible prosecution.
Bloom was asked after yesterday's hearings why the press release had not reflected the original guidelines for it that he discussed with Smith. Bloom said repeatedly he did not understand the question.
Reached by telephone in Atlanta, Smith said he had been instructed by a Robert Altman, and attorney in the law office of Clark Clifford, which is advising Lance, not to answer any questions.
So it could not be determined last night who drafted the press previous release which, in effect, disguised thr true extent of Lance's troubles by omitting two key examples for them.
The press release was never used, because the reporter whose original query prompted its preparation never called back, Bloom has said.
The only subsequent public statement on Lance's past dealings with the bank examiners came in Bloom's Jan. 18 letter to the Senate, in which he called Lance "well qualified." That letter mentioned the referral of one investigation to the Justice Department (which decided not to prosecute), but again avoided specific mention of the fact that Lance and his wife had overdrawn their accounts.
Another open question is whether President-elect Carter knew the full extent of Lance's earlier troubles. If he saw a copy of the comptroller's agreement with the Calhoun bank, he would have known most of the facts - except for the size of the Lance family's overdrafts, which apparently was not determined until this summer's special investigation by the new comptroller, John G. Heimann.
Lance has said publicly that he told Carter all about his earlier problems last November, John Moore, the lawyer who handled conflict-of-interest matters for the Carter transition team, and who was a party to the first Bloom-Smith conversation about the press release that was never released, said he never saw a copy of the Calhoun bank agreement. Moore also said that Carter obviously knew more about the situation than he, Moore, had told him personally.
Carter's spokesman, Jody Powell, said last night he personally had never seen a copy of the Calhoun bank agreement, and could not say if Carter had.
Yesterday's hearings produced extensive new information about Lance's personal relationships with various government officials involved in his case.
Tarleton, the regional director of the comptroller's office in Atlanta, revealed that he had met with Lance numerous times, including the session on Nov. 22 of last year, which preceded by an hour or two Tarleton's decision to rescind the disciplinary "agreement" with the Calhoun bank.
Tarleton insisted that Lance did not on that day or at any other time ask him to rescind the agreement. Nor did anyone else associated with the Calhoun bank, he testified.
Yesterday, in sworn testimony, Tarleton said that meeting on Nov. 22 had served him as a "reminder" that he had been planning for some time to rescind the agreement. He then went ahead and did so.
In an earlier sworn affidavit, released yesterday for the first time, Tarleton said he couldn't recall if the Lance visit that day had been a "reminder" or not.
In the affidavit Tarleton also said he could not explain why he hadn't mentioned his intention to drop the agreement with the Calhoun bank in a "memorandum for the files" on the Calhoun situation which he had written just six days earlier.
Lance had many other meetings with Tarleton, and on Dec. 16, 1976, Tarleton accompanied Lance to the comptroller's office in Washington, where he met with a number of senior officials including Bloom, the acting comptroller.
It was a get-acquainted meeting of no significance, Tarleton testified, though he also said he had trouble remembering details. "I was suffering from a migraine headache which caused visibility problems, preoccupation and an inability to give much attention to the proceedings," he said in a sworn affidavit.
Later that day Tarleton accepted a ride back to Atlanta in Lance's airplane. Tarleton said he thought the plane belonged to the U.S government (Lance was then formally a nominee for government office), and only learned that it belonged to the National Bank of Georgia when they reached Atlanta. (Lance was presidnet of the NBG).
Lance also developed a personal relationship with Bloom. They had lunch together at Lance's suggestion about a week before Bloom wrote his letter to the Senate committee calling Lance "well qualified," Bloom testified.
He also testified that, after consulting with Lance personally, he decided not to give the FBI a copy of the Calhoun bank agreement. And Bloom testified that he talked to Lance when he drafted the letter he sent to the Senate committee.
Testimony yesterday suggested that Bloom and Tarleton were not close colleagues, however. They both said Bloom had hit the roof when he learned Tarleton had terminated the Calhoun bank agreement last Nov. 22 without asking Bloom's express permission.
Bloom indicated sensitivity to what he called "political" factors. "We were in the first days of the honeymoon period," he said of the period around Inauguration Day last January, when he wrote his letter calling Lance well-qualified. One reason he thought he was qualified, Bloom said, what that President Carter had put such faith in him.
"Nobody likes to be a skunk at a garden party," Bloom said. And he acknowledged that he was personally interested in removing the word "acting" from his title - which was then acting comptroller of the currency.
And yet, Bloom claimed that his letter to the Senate committee, by referring to some of Lance's past difficulties, albeit not too forcefully, was "full of red flags all over it" if the Senate had really been interested in pursuing Lance's past banking career.
The text of the Calhoun bank agreement, released yesterday for the first time, depicts an institution which did not have adequate working capital, did not ask for adequate collateral when making loans, and neglected to ask borrowers for detailed financial information or keep adequate records.
In the agreement, signed by every member of the bank's board including Lance, the bank promised radical changes in its operations, new salary schedules for executives, and to hire "a new active and capable senior lending officer" whose name the comptroller wanted to approve in advance of his hiring.
Read as a whole, the agreement suggests that the overdrafts allowed to Lance and his family, and to Lance's gubernatorial campaign, were among numerous relaxed policies which faileld to conform to the bank examinaters' definition and sound banking practice.
Rep. Fernand J. St. Germain (D-R.I.), chairman of the Banking subcommittee, said at the start of yesterday's session, "Banks are not the personal toys of bankers - at least, they are not supposed to be."
In this case, however, he continued, "the evidence I have seen . . .leads me to believe that Bert Lance, his family and friends regarded the Calhoun First National Bank as their playpen - to be used as they pleased." St Germain said he thought Lance should resign as director of the Office of Management and Budget.