The saga of David W. Marston and his future as the U.S. attorney in Philadelphia took several curious turns yesterday that left a trail of confusion from the White House to Capitol Hill.
It began in the morning where at a meeting with junior Democratic members of Congress President Carter was told that the decision to replace Republican Marston while he is in the midst of an investigation involving Democratic congressmen "does not reflect well on the administration."
That assertion prompted the President to tell the group that, as of that moment. Justice Department officials had been unable to determine that such an investigation touching Democratic congressmen was actually going on in Philadelphia.
The President's words - suggesting an entirely new twist in the Marston controversy - were quickly relayed to reporters by one of the meeting's participants, Rep. James J. Florio (D-N.J.). By the time Carter's comments reached Capitol Hill, they just as quickly produced a statement of outrage from Sen. Richard S. Schweiker (R-Pa.), who accused the President of "not being straight with the American people."
And that, shortly thereafter, led back to the White House, where presidential press secretary Jody Powell issued a "clarification" of what the President really meant to say.
By the end of the day, Powell was strongly suggesting that Marston's future as the U.S. attorney for the Eastern Dirict of Pennsylvania now rests largely in the hands of a three-man Justice Department team that went to Philadelphia [WORD ILLEGIBLE] to investigate.
The Justice Department team was sent to philadelphia by Attorney General Griffin B. Bell to determine whether replacing Marston now with a Democratic prosecutor would adversely affect any ongoing investigations, particularly those involving Democratic congressmen. The team had returned to Washington by yesterday.
"Their fundings - particularly on whether or not it (Marston's removal) would impede the enforcement of the law - are going to have a major impact," Powell said.
At the heart of the controversy are reports that Marston has been investigating Rep. Daniel J. Flood (D-Pa.) in connection with federal grants to a Philadelphia hospital and that the name of Rep. Joshua Eilberg (D-Pa.) has coe up in the course of the investigation.
Last week, Carter admitted at a news conference that Eilberg called him on Nov. 4 and that at Eilberg's request he called Bell and asked the Attorney General to "expedite" finding a replacement for Marston.
Since that admission, the White House has sought to prove that the President did not know in November of a possible investigation of Eilberg and therefore could not be accused of seeking to protect Eilberg. That apparently was the point Carter was trying to make yesterday leading to much of the day's confusion.
According to Florio of New Jersey, the President noted at the meeting with the Democratic members of Congress hat Bell had dispatched the three-man team to Philadelphia, and told the group:
"The Attorney General as late as today (yesterday) has been unable to even ascertain if there is such an investigation involving Democratic congressmen out of the U.S. attorney's office in Philadelphia."
Carter's words clearly left the impression that Bell's investiyative team had gone to Philadelphia, found no evidence that congressmen are under investigation and suggested that the whole Marston controversy probably that Somalia has breached this princi-amounted to much ado about nothing. Powell conceded that he coul see how Florio and the others could have getten that impression. But that is not what the President mean, he said.
The official White House carification put it this way:
"The President's comments this morning were directed toward alegations that Congressman Eilberg was under investigation. They were based upon statements by Attorney General Bell at the Cabinet meeting Monday morning that he had no evidence that Congressman Eilberg met the target of an investigation.
"The President's comments mere not based upon any report from the three-lan Justice Department team in Philadelphia, as he has had no report from them. The team did not begin to arrive in Philadelphia until yesterday (Monday)."
In Philadelphia, Marston cared the President's comments "fat, dead wrong."
Powell said he did not know when the Justice Department team will report its findings to be and Carter.