Responding to criticism by federal bank examiners in 1973, Bert Lance pledged in writing to "take immediate action to cure overdrafts of directors, officers, employees and members of their family" at the Calhoun, Ga., First National Bank.
Instead, the bank allowed overdrafts to these bank insiders to grow substantially in 1974 and 1975. When bank examiners insisted that they be stopped. Lance's written pledge to the regional administrator of national banks in Atlanta had no apparent effect, according to official records.
This was one of several new problems for Lance that arose in the meandering course of yesterday's fractious and confused Senate hearing into Lance's affairs. Frequently the presence of the directors of the Office of Management and Budget was barely noticed as members of the Governmental Affairs Committee made their own long statements or argued among themselves.
Yet the day did produce new statements and accusations that appear to raise new difficulties for Lance. It also produced some good news for him, most of it in the form of friendly questions from four Democratic senators on the committee.And one Republican expressed the hope that Lance "survives."
Lance himself remained stolid throughout the day. In the morning session it appeared that he had largely disarmed his critics, but the questioning in the afternoon was much rougher.
Potentially the most serious new accusation yesterday came from Sen. Charles McC. Mathias (R-Md.) who said he has information that Lance delayed the FBI's investigation into his background late last year by declining several times to sign a waiver authorizing the FBI inquiry.
"The transition people [Jimmy Carter's presidential transition staff] say . . . the necessary consent papers were laid before youy on several occassions . . . and it was not until the 27th of December that you signed them," Mathias said.
"Why did it take you so long to get the FBI started" Mathias asked, nothing that Lance's appointment was announced on Dec. 3.
Lance flatly denied the implicit charge. "I was not holding back anything about any FBI check," he said. "What did I have to hide from any FBI investigation? . . . As soon as it was before me I signed it."
Mathias did not identity the source of his allegation, but it was understood later that it was based on a committee staff interview this week of a former member of the Carter transition team.
Committee Chairman Abraham A. Ribicoff (D-Conn.) also introduced a new element yesterday. Noting Lance's assertion Thursday that bank examiners had not accused him of violating the law with personal overdrafts from the bank, Ribicoff quoted from a hitherto-unmentioned 1971 examinaion of the Calhoun bank.
The 1971 report said that "President Lance's liability" to the bank did violate terms of banking law that limit a bank's loans to its own officers to $5,000, except for mortgages or education.
Ribicoff asked if Lance's statement Thursday had been misleading when he said "at no time" was he cited for violating this law.
Lance noted that his statement Thursday concerned only 1972-'76. "I don't know what the circumstances were" in 1971, Lance said.
Lance returned repeatedly to the carefully drafted, 49-page statement that he gave in his own defense Thursday, reading excerpts from it or recalling arguments in it. Lance also turned repeatedly to Clark M. Clifford, the longtime Washington insider he has retained as counsel.
When Lance arrived at the hearing room just before 10 a.m., Clifford was waiting for him at the Witness table. In a whispered conference Clifford proposed that Lance not answer immediately the first question put to him, but instead say that he would like to thank members of the committee for the "fair treatment" they gave him Thursday.
When Sen. Bill Roth (R-Del.) opened the questioning, Lance asked to say something before answering: he wanted to thank the senators for "the fairness and courtesy you extended me" Thursday.
It signaled a change in tactics - from Thursday's open challenge of the accommodating tone. The switch added to the obvious discomfort of some committee members.
Sens. Ribicoff and Charles H. Percy (III), the ranking Republican, have publicly called for Lance's resignation, and neither has backed away from that position. Both senators apparently believed that - as former staunch supporters of Lance - their about-face would be enough to encourage him to resign.
When that did not happen, Ribicoff and Percy reportedly concluded that Lance would have his "day in court" before their committee, and then resign. Now this too appears unlikely, judging by the adamant manner in which Lance has defended himself.
This leaves the Senate committee with no obvious course of action. Much of yesterday's hearing was occupied with senatorial ruminations on what their proper role now is.
The prospect that they might have to spend additional days or weeks evaluating Lance obviously does not appeal to the committee's members. But several saw no way out of that yesterday. Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio) said the committee should analyze every charge against Lance weigh his defense and the other evidence, and come to some conclusion about each one." I think we've got a lot of work to do on the committee," Glenn said.
Enough senators expressed friendly sentiments toward Lance yesterday to raise the possibility that the committee would not agree on evaluations of the charges against him. So the Lance affair could rag on inconclusively for a long time, barring a resignation.
The strongest support for Lance yesterday came from Sen. Thomas F. Eagleton (D-Mo.), who suggested that his colleagues on the committee knew a lot more about Lance's past when they confirmed him in January than they now want to admit.
Eagleton said Lance was a victim of "guilt by accumulation" - the accumulation of numerous accusations, many unfounded. In an unusual personal attack on a fellow senator, Eagleton accused Percy of making some of the unfounded accusations.
"In his melliflous tones," Eagleton said sarcastically of Percy, who sat a few feet away, the Illinois Republican had raised the possibility that Lance was a tax cheater saying "of course I'm not accusing . . ." at the same time. As a result, said Eagleton. "Some people will believe forever that Bert Lance is a tax fraud cheat."
Percy said later, "I deeply regret" that Eagleton felt that way. He said there was an inevitable risk when one takes on the job of evaluating someone else's integrity: "I accepted this risk knowingly," Percy said.
Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) also tried to help Lance by leading him through a series of questions that gave him an opportunity to respond to past accusations.
Nunn asked Lance about the suggestion that he had expected a post in the Carter administration as early as May, 1976, and had expressed concern to a federal bank examiner at that time that the FBI might uncover embarrassing facts about his banking career in a background investigation.
Lance said this was not true.
Nunn also allowed Lance to introduce a letter written last month by the former president of the National Bank of Georgia repeating Lance's contention that he had "carte blanche" from the bank to use its Beechcraft King airplane virtually as he saw fit.
The other friendly senators were Lawton M. Chiles Jr. (D-Fla.) and James R. Sasser (D-Tenn.). Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) asked Lance some difficult questions about the overdrafts used to finance his 1974 gubernatorial campaign, but then said he hoped Lance would "survive" and succeed in balancing the federal budget.
Lance's use of bank aircraft provoked a hassle on the committee which could not be resolved. Percy wanted to ask questions about this based on information provided to himself and Ribicoff (but not to members) by the Department of Justice, which is considering whether to prosecute Lance for misusing the planes.
Clifford, Lance's lawyer, said it might violate his client's rights to raise this information in a public hearing. The committee decided to wait until today to resolve the issue.
Percy did sharpen his accusations against Lance regarding his alleged use of a block of shares in the National Bank of Georgia as simultaneous collateral on large loans from two different New York banks.
Percy elicited an admission that Lance once told officers of the Manufacturers Hanover Bank in New York that he would bring them stock certificates covering this disputed block of shares at a time when the certificates were held by the Chemical Bank of New York as collateral on another loan.
In other words, Lance said he would produce certificates for Manufacturers Hanover (as he had previously promised in a note he signed with that bank) at a time when he didn't have possession of the securities in question.
Roth elicited a partial apology by Lance for his past overdrafts at the Calhoun bank. "All of us would hope that circumstances like that would not take place," Lance said.
But Roth could not get Lance to admit that overdrafts by him of more than $5,000 were illegal since the law forbids loans greater than that to a bank's own officers, and by Lance's own admission an overdraft is a form of loan.
"I can't respond" to the question of legality, Lance insisted.
Chiles asked if Lance tried to change the policy of the Calhoun bank, which he ran, when its "liberal" policy on overdrafts was criticized by federal bank examiners.
"It's sometimes hard to change policies, senator, as you know from your experience in government," Lance said. He compared the Calhoun bank to the OMB, where, he said, he also had trouble changing established policies.