More than a month after his resignation as budget director, Bert Lance prevailed upon the White House to prevent the State Department from taking back his special-privilege diplomatic passport, administration officials confirmed yesterday.
White House officials said Lance was allowed to keep his VIP passport because there is a possibility that President Carter might someday call on him to travel abroad as a personal presidential envoy. However, they said they know of no such goodwill trip currently planned.
The distinctive, black-jacketed and gold-lettered passport retained by Lance, who is a close personal friend of President Carter, permits the former director of the Office of Management and Budget to enter a foreign country without being routinely searched by customs officers. It also entitles him to other courtesies accorded special travelers. About 300 person outside the government currently hold such passports.
Soon after he resigned amid allegations of financial improprieties, Lance and his wife, LaBelle, visited Europe for eight days on a private trip. It is not known whether Lance used the special passport on that journey.
State Department officials said that holders of diplomatic passports are expected to use private citizen passports when they are not traveling on government business, although they said the expectation is often overlooked.
Lance has frequently visited the White House since his departure, and he is regarded by administration insiders as a still-influential adviser to the President.
Lance resigned as budger director in September after a congressional inquiry into his financial conduct before he joined the government. A federal grand jury is still probing his personal transactions, and the Securities and Exchange Commisiion reportedly is considering issuing an order that could exclude him from working in the banking industry.
A State Department official said that these eligible for the passports include former Presidents, former Vice Presidents, former Supreme Court justices, retired ambassadors, retired senior Foreign Service officers who served as chiefs of missions and retired high-grade civil servants with at least 20 years State Department service abroad.
The eligible list also includes former Cabinet officials who potentially could be called upon for special missions abroad, according to the State Department consular affairs spokeswoman Sarah Horsey.
Specifically, former Secretaries of State Henry A. Kissinger, Dean Rusk and W. Averill Harriman, former Vice Presidents Spiro T. Agnew and Hubert H. Humphrey, former Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg and scores of former ambassadors currently in and out of government service are eligible for VIP passports, she said.
The State Department routinely issues passports for other former officials once the White House vouches that they are likely to be called upon for special foreign assignments.
White House deputy press secretary Rex Granum said that after Lance resigned the State Department sent a routine letter asking the former OMB director to turn in his diplomatic passport because he was no longer in government service.
Granum said Lance telephoned Carter's chief aide, Hamilton Jordan, and, finding Jordan unavailable, told his confidential secretary, Eleanor Connors, about the passport recall problem.
Connors called the State Department, according to Granum, and "they resolved it." Although Granum said nobody at the White House suggested that Lance may be called upon to travel overseas for the President, press secretary Jody Powell said there was a possibility that Carter might call on Lance as a personal envoy abroad.
He added, however, that "we don't have any diplomatic missions planned for him at present."
The State Department's Horsey said the matter was handled so routinely that she barely remembered the details, although she conceded, "You take some notice when the name that comes up has been in the news." She said no speicial consideration was given Lance in handling the matter.
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