Budget director Bert Lance was granted a one-week delay in his scheduled Senate committee appearance yesterday, as federal investigators produced a new report centering on alleged improprietors in the use of company aircraft and funds.
The findings of the latest investigation by the comptroller of the currency were referred to the Justice Department and the Internal Revenue Service, according to a House subcommittee chairman also probing the affairs of the embattled Carter administration official.
The report from Comptroller John G. Heimann will made public today and Heinemann will testify Thursday before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.
Several senators and aides who were briefed on it yesterday said that it identifies Atlanta lawyer Charles Kirbo, an influential presidential adviser, as one of those who used the Lance bank plane for questionable purposes.
In a comment reflecting the increasing White House gloom about Lance's prospects, Kirbo told the Los Angeles Times he was not certain about Lance's political survival, but "I just hope he gets the chance to shoot down some of the stuff that's been written about him."
Lance, who was originally scheduled to make his defense on Thursday, was granted a delay until Sept. 15 after his new attorney, Clark Clifford, met with the committee chairman, Sen. Abraham A. Ribicoff (D-Conn.), and the ranking minority member, Sen. Charles H. Percy (R-Ill.).
The White House denied published reports that Lance's forced resignation is now regarded as inevitable, but the President passed by an opportunity to defend his old friend, saying only that the time to discuss Lance's fate was "later."
Ribicoff and Percy, who had visited Carter on Monday to urge a Lance resignation, said after a four-hour closed-door session of the committee that they doubted Lance would have been confirmed as director of the Office Management and Budget if the information now in their hands been available last January.
They did not specify what that information is, but increasing indications were that it invloved Lance's use of an airplane owned by the National Bank of Georgia, which he headed for two years before joining the Carter administration.
Chairman Fernand J. St. Germain (D-R.I.) of a House Banking subcommittee also investigating the Lance affair announced that information on Lance's use of the Atlanta bank's plane had been given to two Federal agencies for possible prosecution.
The Justice Department and the Internal Revenue Service have jurisdiction over possible criminal, tax and campaign law violations. The Washington Post also reported yesterday that the Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating the use of the aircraft.
On report said that there may be several score flights that cannot be attributed clearly to business purposes, many of which may have involved personal travel by Lance.
The comptroller disclosed last month that Carter had traveled five times in Lance's plane in 1975 and 1976, and the White House said the bank would be reimbursed for the cost of those trips.
Ribicoff told reporters after the closed door session that none of the new allegations involve the President. But three sources in the room told The Washington Post that Kirbo was mentioned as one of those who used the National Bank of Georgia plane.
In a telephone interview from his home in Atlanta Kirbo said he flew once with Lance to a ball game and once home from a debate in Virginia.
"Most of the time I've flown with Bert it's been on personal business," Kirbo said. "As long as I've known him he's allways had a plane and I never asked whether it was his plane or the bank's plane."
The number of instances was not specified, nor was the purpose. But this was the first time that the name of the influential Atlanta lawyer has been drawn into the case.
Several persons in the briefing said the report also mentioned Lance's mother-in-law as a user of the bank plane, and one senator said he understood "allmost" everyone you ever heard of around the White House was on the list."
The underlying issue in the use of the airplane was whether it represented personal income to Lance for which he had incurred a tax liability.
In addition to the questions about the plane, the senators also have information from their own investigators that a former official of a Lance-run bank in Calhoun, Ga., convicted of embezzlement, made oral statements implicating Lance in that scheme.
But several of those in the hearing room expressed strong skepticism about the uncorroborated and unsworn statements from the embezzler, Billy Lee Campbell.TThe lengthy meeting of he Ribicoff committee was dominated by procedural questions. In the end, the senators decided to postpone Heinemann's testimony by one day and to grant Lance a one-week delay.
The scope of the investigation was expanded to include the activities of Lance and his Georgia banks, the question of whether federal officials acted properly in ending their supervision of the Calhoun bank, and what Percy called the "ineffectiveness" of the confirmation process by that same committee.
At the White House yesterday, the Lance affair continued as the dominant topic of interest despite a succession of meetings the President held with leaders of Latin American nations who are in Washington for today's signing of the Panama Canal treaties.
After escorting Gen. Omar Torrijo's, Panama's military ruler, from the White House to a waiting limousine, Carter was asked by a reporter whether he thinks Lance should resign to step aside.
"We'll see about that later," the President replied.
White House press secretary Jody Powell said the remark meant only that Carter did not wish to discuss the Lance situation then and no other meaning should be read into it.
But Powell, while repeating many of his earlier statements defending Lance, was noticeably subdued, the tone of his defense much less definite than it had been earlier.
Powell said the President continues in his belief that Lance has done nothing that would warrant his "being run out of government," has not asked for the budget director's resignation and not received a resignation offer from Lance. The press secretary, however, refused to discuss reports of new allegations against Lance, saying Lance would soon have a chance to defend himself before the Senate committee.
In a related development, Common Cause, the self-styled citizens lobby, said in a letter to members of the Ribicoff committee that Lance's banking activities "appear to involve serious violations of the federal campaign finance law."
The letter, signed by Common Cause president David Cohen and vice president Fred Wertheimer, referred to overdrafts and direct expenditures by the Calhoun First National Bank during Lance's 1974 race for governor.
"It is quite clear," they said, "from the comptroller's report that these transactions were not loans 'made in accordance with the applicable banking laws and regulations and in the ordinary course of business' as required by federal law.
"It is simply wrong for President Carter and . . . Lance to say that no illegalities or improprieties have been revealed," they said.
In a conversation with reporters before the committee meeting, Ribicoff recanted his accusation six weeks ago that the press was "smearing Bert Lance."
"I would say I was a little too strong on that," the senator said. "I wouldn't say it again."