Six months before Jimmy Carter was elected President, Bert Lance told a federal bank examiner that he expected a senior post in the Carter administration and was concerned about a possible FBI check of his banking background, according to surprise testimony yesterday.
Lance allegedly told Donald Tarleton, Atlanta director of the office of the comptroller of the currency, in May, 1976, that he was concerned about a "cease-and-desist" agreement imposed by banks examiners on the Calhoun, Ga., First National Bank (Lance was its chairman in December, 1975.
In the new testimony, another bank examiner quoted Tarleton as saying that Lance "discussed what could be done to deal with the agreement in the event an FBI background investigation materalized."
The agreement contained explicit, potentially embarrasing criticism of the way Lance ran the Calhoun bank, and also discussed extensive overdrafts that the bank permitted to Lance and his relatives.
There had been no previous suggestion that Lance knew so early that he was in line for a senior job if Carter won the presidency. The allegation that Lance might have tried to do something to "deal with" the touchy Calhoun disciplinary agreement contradicts previous testimony from Lance and others involved.
A spokesman for Lance in Washington yesterday said he "surely doesn't remember talking about any FBI background investigation" six months before the election. "After all, that was May," the spokesman said. The spokesman added that Lance will answer this and all other accusations when he testifies in the Senate Thursday and Friday.
Tarleon, the official to whom Lance allegedly spoke in May, 1976, said yesterday he too could not recall the discussion, though he acknowledged having met with Lance at that time.
Meanwhile, White House press secretary Jody Powell described as incorrect broadcast reports that Lance's resignation is imminent and that former Democratic National Chairman Robert S. Strauss is in line to succeed him.
Lance denied any intention of leaving his post in a morning news conference at the doorstep of his Georgetown home.
The new testimony on Lance was revealed at a Senate hearing yesterday by Sen. Charles H. Perey (R-Ill.). Briefly, this is what Percy disclosed:
A federal bank examiner based in Washington, Charles Francis Stuart Jr., read a newspaper article last week describing relations between Lance and Tarleton.
Stuart has since testified to investigators from the Internal Revenue Service that he believed "something had been omitted from the article."
Specifically, Stuart recalled a trip he took to Atlanta on May 13, 1976, with a colleague, Thomas C. Brown, to speak to bank examiners there (Brown now works in the Philadelphia office of the comptroller of the currency.) Stuart recalled that he and Brown waited outside the office of Tarleton, the Atlanta regional director, when they first arrived.
"Shortly after their arrival," according to the IRS report on Stuart's new testimony. "Regional Administrator Tarleton escorted a gentleman out of his office." Then he came over to greet Brown and Stuart.
Stuart thought he recalled that Tarleton had identified the gentleman he had just escorted out of his office as Bert Lance. "After seeing recent pictures of Lance in newspapers, etc., he believes that the gentleman was indeed Bert Lance," the IRS said.
As reported by the IRS, Stuart's recollections continued:
"Mr. Tarleton specifically stated that Lance told him that if Mr. Carter was elected President. Lance would be nominated for a high position in the Carter administration. Mr. Tarleton further stated that one of Mr. Lance's banks (i.e., Calhoun First National) was under a (cease-and-desist) agreement with the office of the comptroller of the currency; (and) that Lance spoke with him (Tarleton) about what could be done to deal with the agreement in the event an FBI background investigation materialized."
The IRS also questioned Brown, the examiner who accompanied Stuart on that trip to Atlanta. Brown remembered the incident. He recalled that Tarleton had said Lance expected a senior post in the Carter administration. But he did not recall that Tarleton had said anything about Lance's concern with an FBI investigation and the Calhoun bank agreement.
This new testimony came to light yesterday at the end of a hearing in which Tarleton answered questions about his dealings with Lance from members of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.
Confronted with the new testimony. Tarleton said he could not recall the incident Stuart and Brown described. Tarleton did say that his appointments calendar confirmed that he had met with Lance on May 13, 1976.
Percy said after the hearing that the testimony Stuart and Brown had given was not the kind of thing people generally make up. He also said it was "troubling" that Tarleton's testimony contained so many repetitions of his inability to recall specific events and conversations.
Tarleton did repeatedly say that he could not remember who said what to whom at various times in his dealings with Lance and matters related to Lance.
Lance has said in sworn testimony that he discussed the Calhoun bank cease-and-desist agreement with Tarleton when the two met last Nov. 22. A few hours later, Tarleton moved unilaterally to rescind that agreement.
But Tarleton has not confirmed Lance's testimony on this point. "To the best of my recollection." Tarleton said again yesterday, the Calhoun bank situation was not mentioned when he met with Lance Nov. 22.
Lance knew at the time of the Nov. 22 meeting that he would be nominated for the job of director of the Office of Management and Budget; this was the principal subject of their meeting, according to Tarleton. Tarleton testified yesterday that "it seemed like a perfectly normal thing (for Lance) to do" to visit him that day.
Tarleton was also questioned yesterday about a ride he took last Dec. 12 from Washington to Altanta on an airplane owned by the National Bank of Georgia, of which Lance was then President. Lance was on the same flight.
Testimony about the flight now on the record is contradictory. Two weeks ago Tarleton testified that he believed this plane belonged to the federal government until fater it had landed in Atlanta, when the pilot told him it was the NBG's aircraft.
Sen. H. John Heinz III (R-Pa.) asked if Tarleton really thought it was a government plane when it carried the initials "NBG" on its tail. Tarleton said when he saw the plane he realized "it was probably not a government aircraft."
Tarleton has testified that his flight to Atlanta with Lance was pre-arranged by them both, but a lawyer representing Lance has denied this version in a letter to the comptroller of the currency.
According to the lawyer, Alex W. Smith, Lance [WORD ILLEGIBLE] Tarleton "accidentally" in the Washington office of the comptroller that day - "neither knew the other was to be there."
Tarleton has said he was there by prearrangement to introduce Lance to his collegues in the Washington office.
Percy revealed yesterday that Hamilton Jordan. Carter's senior White House aide, urged him and Sen. Abraham A. Ribicoff (D-Conn.) to tell the press what they told Carter when they went to the White House on Labor Day - that Bert Lance should resign.
Jordan said it would be "just as well" to tell the press what they had said. Percy related. In other words, Jordan appeared to want the senators to make known their loss of confidence in Lance.