House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.), angry over the dismissal of his friend Robert Griffin from the General Services Administration, went to the White House yesterday to be pacified personally by President Carter, but emerged even angrier than when he went in.
Griffin "was treated in a shabby manner," O'Neill said at a news conference, "and I was treated in a shabby manner . . . I am deeply hurt." He accused the White House of misleading him earlier this week about Griffin's fate.
The White House quickly promised to find another job for the former deputy administrator of the GSA, and assigned no less a figure than Vice President Mondale to the task.
Presidential spokesman Rex Granum conceded afterward that the White House was "concerned" about its future relations with the powerful House speaker, and carefully avoided feeding O'Neill's anger by trying to rebut the speaker's accusation.
In response to questions, Granum also said he "would try to get away from a discussion of the question as to how wonderfully the administration has handled this."
O'Neill is a close friend and sponsor of Griffin, a 35-year veteran of the GSA. But GSA administrator Jay Solomon, struggling with federal and internal investigations revealing widespread corruption in the agency, was said to have become convined in recent months that he could not effectively run the sprawling agency because employes were not sure whether he or Griffin was in charge.
He sought and received White House support to dismiss Griffin, stressing that Griffin was in no way the subject of any allegations.
The White House decided on the dismissal Wednesday, and dispatched congressional liaison Frank Moore to brief O'Neill, Granum said.But, according to O'Neill, Moore told him he knew nothing of any impending dismissal and did not believe it would take place.
The next morning, O'Neill read about it in The Washington Post. "I learned what happened from the press," the speaker said. The White House did not have the "common decency" to inform him in advance, he told reporters.
"It is our feeling that we did not mislead him," Granum said yesterday, but "we have no desire to get into a prolonged discussion back and forth with the speaker."
Carter invited O'Neill to breakfast yesterday to discuss the matter. "We feel that they had a reasonable" meeting, Granum said. The president then met with Griffin, and "expressed his appreciation for his years of service" suggested that Mondale find some other job for him, Granum said. Griffin "indicated his willingness" to pursue that possibility, Granum added.
"The president views it as a personality conflict that developed into a serious management problem," Granum said. Carter explained to O'Neill and Griffin that "he had no choice but to support Solomon." The "major question was who's in charge" at GSA.
"The president made it clear that there have been no allegations or charges that Mr. Griffin is involved in any wrongdoing or impropriety," Granum said.